First of the Season Skiing

My septuagenarian parents were hands-down among the coolest kids on the hill. Arc’teryx jackets, Patagonia pants, new Blizzard and K2 skis.  Looking down at my noticeably emaciated skis, I convinced myself that, yeah, they had it going on, but I was an early adopter on an impending skinny ski revival.  Holding my head high, I headed into the queue for the chairlift.

I had known I was in for a treat that day.  My folks had called the night before to say they were headed up for a mid-week ski day at Crystal Mountain Resort, and invited me to come.  The forecast called for 23 degrees and partial sun, with 4-5 inches of fluffy, new snow.  Mid-week and early season means few people, so it sounded perfect to me, as skiing is one of my favorite ways to welcome the holidays.

Crystal Mountain Resort is Washington State’s largest ski area, offering 11 lifts, a cherry red gondola, a jib park, the state’s highest restaurant, 2,600 acres of incredible terrain, and over 50 named runs.  Depending on the weather, the resort typically opens for the season anywhere between late November and the first weeks of December.

Seeing the sun above the ridge of the mountain, we headed straight to the top.  From the ridgeline Mt. Rainier is only 12 miles south as the crow flies, and it was out in all its majestic glory.  We opted to warm up our legs in Green Valley.  Early morning meant a little crunch as we traversed the top of the run, but the new coating of powdered sugar-like snow neatly covered any icy patches.

It was on to groomers after that.  The wide-open hillside and fresh snow made everyone look like a rock star, and I felt certain that even Lindsey Vonn could appreciate my Super-G efforts.   In fact, I could have looked more like Vince Vaughn than Lindsey Vonn in terms of grace, but great snow always has a heady effect on me, so Lindsey it was.

After showboating on the groomers we headed to Middle Ferks, which has always been my favorite run at the mountain.  It is short and steep, and offers perfectly spaced moguls.  Having gone to Crystal Mountain for many years I remind myself that Middle Ferks used to be called Iceberg Gulch, so I kept that in mind as I dropped into the run, respecting both its namesake reputation, and my body.  My long, skinny skis did well, but my very athletic and fat ski-equipped father left me in a wake of powder as he rocketed to the bottom.

It was on a chair ride to another part of the mountain that he informed me that he not only had one pair of fat, cool-kid skis, but two.  “My Bent Chetler skis are even fatter.”  Looking directly at me he added, “That’s phat, with a ‘P-H’.”  Got it.  Who the heck is Bent Chetler, and why is my dad more current than I am?

Soon after, we decided to lunch at Campbell Basin Lodge, located midway up the resort.  The restaurant offers traditional favorites like chili and soup, but also varied fare like Udon noodles and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches.  It also offers free wi-fi, perfect for those of us who may take a work day to play, but still want to check our email.

We got in one more run before my mom decided to rest her knees at the base lodge. “Why don’t you try my skis for a bit?” she offered.  “Sweet! See ya skinny skis!”  I thought, eschewing what was left of my ‘early adopter’ pretense.  We took hers to the rental shop at the base and in less than two minutes, her bindings were adjusted to fit my larger boots, and my dad and I were headed back up the hill.

I wanted an accurate assessment of these cool-kid skis so we went back to Middle Ferks. This time I was definitely full-Vonning it.  The skis made me look just as sophisticated on the groomed runs that followed.

With a nod to tradition, we stopped at The Snorting Elk at the bottom of the hill for a pitcher of well-earned micro-brew.  There are always 10 beers on tap, and taps are rotated regularly, so over the course of a season there are at least 100 different kinds to try.  If that is a goal, there are some great slopeside lodging options to consider.

For the 2015-2016 ski season Crystal Mountain Resort offers free skiing for up to two children 10-years-old and younger, with a paying adult.  They also offer a beginner ski or board package that includes rental equipment, group instruction, and lift tickets. These lessons are first come, first served, so simply show up the day you’d like to participate and sign up at the Snowsports sales desk.  A first visit includes a four-hour group lesson, equipment rental, and a Discovery lift ticket to learn the basics. Participants then return for two additional half day (2 hour) group lessons on the days of their choice.  The second and third day includes group lessons, equipment rental, and an all-mountain lift ticket.

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