The Crystal Mountain Ski Resort leaves you wondering how it is that such a great ski hill can be relatively unknown and unpatronised outside of Washington State. Catering mainly for the Seattle crowd, Crystal Mountain is a quasi destination resort that has largely avoided the over development that is evident in some of the other western states.
Crystal Mountain Washington has masses of terrain, a great lift and trail system, superb “inbounds backcountry” areas bookending the terrain, and if you are there when the sun shines, views to die for.
Ski Crystal - Terrain
The Crystal Mountain ski and snowboard terrain is reasonably big with 2,600 acres (1052 hectares), making it the largest ski resort in Washington. The terrain stretches across half a dozen peaks and basins and provides a myriad of variation including lovely groomers, steeps, trees, cliffs, bowls, chutes and backcountry access.
One of the major strengths of Crystal Mountain WA is that it’s truly a great all-rounder for the different ability levels (see the terrain ratings below in the left hand column). The official stats are beginner 11%, intermediate 54% and advanced/expert 35%, although this underestimates the amount of joy on offer for experienced snow riders. There are lots of scary unmarked double blacks and the ski resort is bookended by some superb inbounds backcountry.
One bookend is the Northway lifted area. It is best described as Crystals Mountain’s lift accessed inbounds sidecountry. Over a thousand acres of fun steeps, bowls, chutes and trees, it holds powder longer than other areas. The lower section of the area has a groomed trail leading to the base of a very long double chair. The series of access gates vary greatly in difficulty so scope your line wisely. If you are at all concerned, perhaps don’t go in here! Despite a little bit of complexity in the terrain, the Northway area, like the rest of Crystal is brilliantly signposted so navigation is a cinch.
The other bookend and Crystal’s best asset is the old High Campbell double chair. At the opposite end of the hill to Northway, the High Campbell chair rates up there with the Schlasman's chair at Bridger Bowl
for skiing’s dodgiest exit ramp in the USA! Whilst it is clearly marked for experts only, it would be amusing to behold the looks on the faces of any brave soul that over-estimated their skiing ability! For those ready for adventure, make sure to scope this lift out in clear conditions.
Despite the dodgy exit ramp, the lift infrastructure is pretty well developed, particularly for a Washington ski resort. The fleet of 11 lifts includes an 8-person gondola (you have to buy a more expensive lift ticket to ride this), 2 high-speed 6-packs, and 2 high-speed quad chairs.
Crystal Mountain Snow
Crystal Mountain averages 486 inches (12.3 metres) of snowfall annually. This is not in the realm of Mt Baker
that has reached cult-status with its 701 inches (17.8 metres), but it’s more than enough to get a powder hound’s tail wagging. The huge advantage that Crystal has over Baker is that the top elevation is significantly higher (586m/1923 feet) so it’s much less inclined to get hit with rain. Arggggh!
Where is Crystal Mountain WA?
The Crystal Mountain Ski Resort is situated in the northeast corner of Mt Rainier National Park in the Cascade Range of Washington. Crystal Mountain Resort is 84 miles southeast of Seattle (1.5 to 2 hour drive depending on road conditions), with the gateway airport being the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The town of Enumclaw is 41 miles away.
There is a snow bus that runs from Seattle on weekends, whilst “out-of-towners” will want to have a car to get to the resort.
Crystal Mountain Lodging
Crystal is largely a ski area for day-trippers, although it provides Washington’s exception to the rule that there is pretty much no accommodation on any ski hill in the state (what about Whites Pass I hear you say – that’s the exception to the exception!). Thankfully there’s some Crystal Mountain lodging at the ski resort.
There are three Crystal Mountain hotels that are within very easy walking distance of the slopes. OK, so it’s not the Hilton, but sometimes all you need is a bed, bathroom and somewhere to sit to satisfy your needs. The moderately priced Quicksilver Lodge at Crystal gives you this. A little more basic is the Village Inn which has queen and twin rooms. And the Alpine Inn has a restaurant that’s excellent and the Snorting Elk Cellar bar and ‘deli’ provides the sustenance (food and beer!).
Crystal Mountain Lodging Suites provide about 100 modest to luxurious condo rentals, whilst the Alta Crystal Resort is located about 10-15 minutes drive from the ski resort.
Crystal isn’t a glitzy destination resort and the base area amenities are adequate with being OTT. There’s an equipment rental shop, retail shop, mini-market, and ski school, but no child care. The day lodge is a fine place to grab a snack or meal, or for something a fraction grander, lunch at the aptly named Summit House provides stunning views of Mt Rainier on fine days.
The Bullwheel Pub & Grill is an OK spot to watch the stragglers come in off the hill, but the après-ski destination is the Snorting Elk Cellar with its Bavarian theme and great selection of micro-brews.
Summary of Pros and Cons
- Jaw-dropping views of the 14-er Mount Rainier
- Good terrain variety
- Lots of powder albeit a little heavy
- Truck loads of advanced, expert and backcountry terrain
- Some on-mountain lodging
- Best lift infrastructure in Washington
Pro or Con Depending on Your Perspective
- It can get pretty busy on the weekends
- Crystal isn’t a super developed ski resort. There are no activities beyond the skiing and snowboarding, and very limited options for dining, nightlife or shopping. You definitely won’t be able to buy some crystal encrusted goggles at Crystal Mountain!