I am a patroller here at Crystal too and wanted to answer some questions, specifically in regards to Charlie’s query about backcountry priority and what it takes to open. In Southback we do not mark hazards or put out ropelines as we do "in area". South is considered "backcountry" for this reason. However, we do conduct Avalanche Control out there, as most of you probably know. Therefore, it is not "true" backcountry, so don’t go touring and assume the slopes are stable just because it’s good in Silver Basin.
Anyway, when we opened South for the first time this season, the decision was based on the stability of the slopes as well as getting the ropelines and gates in place at the access points. Opening Southback is a big priority for us. We want it to get skied. The more it gets skied, the lower the avalanche hazard will be now and in the future.
I like to ski powder as much as all of you do. In fact, it is my very favorite thing to do in the world. However, here’s something you probably don’t know. I also like to see other people skiing powder that I opened for them. I love to see the look of joyful surprise when a skier gets a face shot. They can’t help buy say "woohoo", and that makes me smile. Last week, it was late in the day when I opened OO Left off of Chair 6. It hadn’t been opened yet and the skiing was amazing. I had to use my avalung as a snorkel. It was ridiculous. When I took the closed rope down, and saw the look in the faces of the few diehards that had kept skiing and riding well past their lactic threshold, I was pleased. Have at it boys.
The oldest cliche regarding patrollers is that they "keep things closed so they can ski it". That’s not true. At least not at Crystal. Sure, we get our few coveted turns at the end of our avalanche route. But then we go inside to sit bump or stand in the cold to tell people to slow down on Queens Run or respond to potential injuries. It’s not all rock star skiing pow and hucking off cliffs on the way to an injury as was portrayed on the reality show. More often than not, we can be found cleaning the bathrooms at the Summit House. Sure, there’s a part of me that wishes it were like that. (Who wouldn’t?) But the rest of it keeps it real. Perhaps that’s why I have grown to love the vicarious joy of watching others ski the pow that we worked so hard to open for them.
Hope that answers some of your questions Charlie.