16th Annual Dirt Bag Ball Coming March 25th, 2017

Be there when we crown the King and Queen!

Who’s ready to eschew their manky long johns and worn-out Gore-Tex for some fun costumes, great music and pitchers of PBR? It’s that time of year again. The Dirt Bag Ball is just around the corner.

 

All hail the Queen!

Ahow, me hearties! The theme this year is Pirates, Hags and Scallywags. So weigh the anchor and hoist the mizzen. This is the party of the season, and you do not want to miss it!

The Dirt Bag Ball is an annual fundraiser for the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. Every year the patrol and members of the Royal Court of Dirtbags vote on the season’s biggest dirtbags (aka ski bums, lifers, first-in-liners, B Lot denizens, and overall rock star locals) and crowns the King and Queen for the following season.

Don’t miss this one!

Get your tickets at the ski patrol office near the base of the gondola or call 360-663-3060 to reserve yours. The raffle this year is filled with booty. Get your raffle tickets from a patroller to support the avalanche dog program.

This event sells out every year, so don’t wait!

Updated Uphill Travel Policy

Crystal Mountain is implementing an updated uphill travel policy. Uphill traffic has increased, and while we do not wish to restrict all access, we are concerned for the safety off all users at Crystal.

UPHILL TRAVEL POLICY

  1. DANGER! No uphill travel when light is flashing.
  2. When the lights are not flashing, all uphill travelers within the ski area boundary must check in with patrol. No exceptions. 360-663-3061. Those traveling outside of the ski area boundary may check with patrol for conditions updates, but it is not required.
  3. When the ski area is open, all uphill travel into Southback is prohibited.
  4. Uphill travel within “closed” terrain is not permitted. This includes areas marked with “No Hiking Above This Point” signs. Avalanche control work—including explosives use—may occur at any time.
  5. Uphill traffic must keep to the side of ski trails and well out of the way of downhill skier traffic.
  6. When traveling uphill after hours, use extreme caution with unmarked hazards and heavy equipment including but not limited to snowmobiles, snowmaking, winch cats and cables.
  7. For more information contact Ski Patrol during operating hours: 360-663-3061.
  8. Anyone found in violation of these rules will be subject to prosecution under Washington State Law RCW 79A.45.070

Why the Change?

While doing Avalanche Control (AC) in Southback this season, I came across a guy skinning alone. My route partner and I had just detonated our last explosive in Threeway Exit Chute, when we noticed the lone skier skinning right up into the runout. I asked the gentleman if he knew that Southback was closed and that we were doing AC. He responded that he “heard the bombs,” but he didn’t think there was a problem. He honestly did not realize that he was in any danger.

uphill-travel-in-silver-basin
Photo by Christy Pelland

Needless to say, I quickly turned him towards the Party Knoll and away from Southback. I took a few turns and saw another group headed up into Southback. Again, the same story. Heard the explosions; didn’t think it was a problem. I asked if they’d checked in with patrol or had seen the flashing lights and read the signs. They explained that they thought that even during AC, they thought Southback was always open. Partway across the “airstrip,” I ran into another group. Same story. Heard the bombs, didn’t check in with patrol, thought Southback was always open. As I continued down, I spoke to nearly thirty tourers. To be fair, one group had checked with patrol. Another group said they planned to check in with patrol when they got to the top of “old 4.” Another explained that they left the parking lot in the dark, and did not see any lights or signs. Several of them were under the impression that it was fine to skin into Southback whether it was open, closed or we were doing active avalanche control. All of these groups should have checked in with patrol and would have been told to stay away from Southback.

A few years ago only a handful of people would skin up into Southback. We might see a skin track or two every once in a while. Now, it’s become like a highway.

In 2014  we implemented an Uphill Travel Policy. The flashing lights–both in the plaza and at the bottom of Chinook–are intended to catch the attention of uphill travelers and alert them not to go anywhere near our Avalanche Control points. Now, we need to be a little more specific, hence the update to our Uphill Travel Policy.

skinning-in-the-trees
Photo by Christy Pelland

What Has Changed?

In the interest of everyone’s safety, we have implemented a revised Uphill Travel Policy, with three major changes from the previous iteration. 1) Uphill travel in Southback is prohibited at any time during the regular ski season. 2) When we are doing AC, uphill travel is not permitted anywhere within the ski area boundary. 3) When traveling uphill within our boundary, you must check in with patrol.

The Ski Area Boundary

Crystal Mountain’s Special Use Permit extends from Goat Chutes in the far North all the way around to Norse Peak on the other side of the valley. Crystal sits on Forest Service land, and our mandate allows us to control access within our Special Use Permit area. However, we do not want to restrict access within the entire Special Use Permit. We only wish to control access within our ski area boundary. The ski area boundary is mainly marked by a ropeline that extends around our perimeter (except for a few open portions along the Southback Traverse). Further, the ski area boundary includes everywhere we do Avalanche Control. Below is a screenshot from FATMAP of Silver Basin. The red arrow is the top of Threeway Exit Chute. Everything to the right of the red line is Southback. The red star indicates the last point of uphill travel into Southback. Here, you will need to veer left if traveling uphill.

southback_fatmap

Southback vs. Silver Basin

Southback sits within Silver Basin, but does not take up the entire basin. It is still okay to skin up into the section of Silver Basin that is not within our ski area boundary. Before getting to the “airstrip”–the long flat section at the base of Southback–turn left as you travel uphill (marked above with the red star), and skin along the climber’s left flank of the airstrip, heading towards the base of Chicken Head and Triple F. Joe’s Badass Shoulder and the climber’s left flank of Threeway are outside of our ski area boundary. It’s still okay to tour into these areas.

How You Can Help

Help us spread the word by discussing the new Uphill Travel Policy with your friends and in your socials. Check in with patrol any time you’re touring within our ski area boundary. Understand that the true backcountry near Crystal offers a much better experience than skinning into Southback. For more information, check the Crystal Mountain Uphill Policy.

 

How to Predict Good Snow Conditions

This is a re-post from a few years ago with updated weather forecast information. The Cascades are getting hit with some big storms in the next few days. Read on to know which days will have the best conditions.

We’ve all been there. Sitting on the chairlift on our first ride up the hill, the guy next to us asks if we were here yesterday. “Dude!” He shakes his head. “It was epic. Yesterday was THE DAY. You should have been here.”

Avery visiting Pow Town on the Frontside.
Avery visiting Pow Town on the Frontside.

You remind yourself that today the conditions don’t look too bad. Even though the sky is leaden gray and the air is a bit too warm, the snow along the edges of the runs appears pretty soft. After a morning of “pretty good” you stop counting the number of times someone reminds you that yesterday, with a foot of fresh and clear blue skies, was probably the best day ever. And you missed it.

If you find yourself in this situation, of course the best method is to ignore yesterday’s perfection and enjoy the day you do have on the slopes. The mountains are always better than the city, any day in any conditions. I could write an entire post about finding pleasure in the current moment. And perhaps I will soon.

But today I’m offering some tips on predicting THE DAY. Let’s face it. We all want to be in the mountains under perfect conditions. Below are a few resources for sussing out the conditions, so that next time you get to be the smug guy saying, “You should have been here yesterday.”

Weather Forecast

The good old National Weather Service is a perfect place to start when planning your day on the slopes. Most of us like good visibility. All things being equal, a sunny day on the slopes is better than a cloudy day. The 7-day forecast is your best resource for finding the sun. Yesterday was a perfect case in point. With firm conditions, the groomers offered the best skiing yesterday. I found dry, chalky snow in Powder Bowl, but the north side of the King was a breakable crust over avalanche debris. Having said that, yesterday was FUN. The sky was that dark mountain blue, the snow was sparkly and pretty and the view went on for miles. So if you can choose a sunny day over a cloudy one, your fun-o-meter will reach a higher potential.

Michelle Parker getting after it in Southback.
Michelle Parker getting after it in Southback.

Check the temperatures and snow levels on the forecast. Know the elevation of your favorite ski area. Crystal Mountain elevation is close to 7,000 ft at the summit and 4,400 at the base. That means when the forecast is calling for 5,000 ft snow levels, we could have wet conditions at the base and snow at the top. This is a good day for Gore-tex and fat skis. You will want to ride the gondola or stay on the upper mountain. However, if the forecast is calling for high winds, the upper mountain might be shut down. Your “Gore-tex and fat ski” day could turn into a “rain slicker and hot chocolate in the lodge” kind of day.

NWAC Mountain Weather Forecast

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) is a great resource for skiers. In addition to a detailed backcountry avalanche forecast–a valuable tool for anyone skiing or riding outside of a ski area–NWAC offers other important weather data. Every morning I check the telemetry at Crystal.

Screenshot of Crystal telemetry 11-27-12

Take a moment to check out this graph. There is much you can learn from it. For example, the temperature and relative humidity have increased since midnight. This tells me that the dry snow from yesterday is picking up moisture. The wind is starting to increase out of the south south-west. We have not gotten any precipitation in the past 24 hours. It is important to note that the precipitation always reads from the past 24 hours. It never “resets”.  However, the 24 hour snow totals do reset. That usually happens in the morning when a ski patroller clears off the stake and the reading returns to 0. We have two weather plots–one at the top of Discovery Chair and the other in Green Valley. The Green Valley telemetry only reads snow and temperature. Sometimes the snow totals can be way off because the trees don’t seem to protect the site as well as they once did. We are currently studying alternative plot sites in order to get the most accurate weather plot possible. However, just know that under consistent wind, the snow totals might be inaccurate.

Forecast Models

winterscience

Winterscience.com is a new forecast that uses machine learning to create a great pinpoint forecast for Crystal Mountain and several other locations around the Cascades. With four updates every day, this model has become my go-to forecast of choice.

The graph on the left shows both temperatures and SWE (snow water equivalent) for each hour. Notice that on Monday night the snow level will rise for a few hours, but will fall back down in the morning as precipitation continues. The temperature at 6830′ (top of the Gondola) will remain freezing. The next system will arrive Thursday morning. The horizontal lines in the upper right of the screenshot link to a model map that includes wind, temperature and precipitation.

The University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Department is a goldmine of weather information. It can be a bit daunting at first, until you spend some time clicking on the various loops. One of my favorites is the Western Washington 24 hour snowfall model

To the left is a screen shot of the WRF-GFS 4km Domain snowfall totals for the next 24 hours initialized at 12 UTC Tuesday November 27th. The WRF-GFS is a version of the GFS model that is specially “formulated” by UW for our location. This model takes into account the mountains and water and convergence zones and tricky local conditions. The GFS is merely one of the models that forecasters look at to predict weather.

In fact, that snowfall prediction looks pretty nice for Crystal. Notice the purple on the east side of Mount Rainier? That’s us. Friday could be a good day, as long as the snow levels behave themselves.

Forecasters Talking to Forecasters

Finally I look at the Forecast Discussion on the NWS page. Several times a day, the NWS lead forecaster explains the forecast for the benefit of Weathermen and Weatherwomen across the region. He or she explains in narrative what the models are predicting, compares the various models and explains why. It is a great resource, very similar to the NWAC forecast, but another perspective from someone looking at the same models. It is also a “look behind the curtain” that offers short term, long term, aviation, maritime and hydrology predictions. While not focussed primarily on the mountains, the forecast discussion offers a valuable look at the big picture.

Website and Social Media

Like all of the local ski areas, Crystal Mountain’s website has a weather page that offers links to many of the resources listed above as well as webcams. Crystal’s Ski Patrol Blog (this page) often displays a Photo of the Day to give a sense of the current conditions and weather. I also post weather conditions updates and photos at personal blog at kimkircher.com. The ski patrol Twitter and Crystal Twitter offer updates on openings, closures and weather conditions. Crystal also uploads current photos to Facebook.

Now that you know when to go (hint, hint Friday is starting to look pretty good) all you need is to start feigning a cough. That way when you call in sick just when the conditions turn epic it won’t look so obvious. My advice is to pretend like you’re always “on the verge” of the latest cold. You probably shouldn’t let anyone at the office see you washing your hands or eating a salad for lunch either. You wouldn’t want them to think you have an immune system of steel.

Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol is Hiring

avalanche_controlCrystal Mountain will be hiring full-time ski patrollers for the 2016-17 winter season. Responsibilities include providing emergency medical care and evacuation, actively participating in our extensive avalanche control program, conducting search and rescues and managing skier safety concerns. Ski patrolling can be an excellent profession to build off your background knowledge of first aid, snow science, technical rope skills, skiing and mountaineering.

We are looking for mature, responsible people to fill some key spots on our patrol. Applicants must be strong alpine skiers, at least 21 years old and possess current EMT-B, OEC or WFR certification. EMT-B is preferred. Prior patrol experience and mountaineering or climbing skills are a plus. Avalanche Level 1 and 2 are also a plus.

Wages start at $12.50. Benefits include a season’s pass, employee housing, and continuing education opportunities and, after the first year, possible 4O1-K benefits. Our season generally begins in late November and ends in April.

NOTE: For those interested in the Volunteer Patrol, please note that their hiring process is separate from the paid staff.

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