Buried in the comments to Kim’s recent post about closures and closed areas, a customer mentioned that he thought it was irresponsible for Crystal Mountain to open as early as it did this season. The snow is filling in nicely now and it sounds like there’s a bunch more on the way. Almost everything’s open at Crystal now. But there’s part of that discussion I want to highlight:
I wonder if the guy who commented was the same gentleman who got in my face last year about how "greedy" (General Manager) John Kircher was for opening so early. Some people just don’t get it, do they? They don’t get that those of us who truly love everything about mountain sports don’t want to sit inside gazing forlornly out the windows, waiting until every run is perfectly groomed corduroy. They don’t get how we keep a quivver of old skis around for those pre- & post-season and days when the lifts aren’t running and we can’t wait to hike up to ski down through the rocks and the stumps and the shrubbery poking up through the snow. And they certainly don’t get that it would tick us off if we bought a season’s pass at a ski area and the folks in-charge didn’t do everything possible to open just as soon the ground gets slippery enough for our p-tex bases to slide around a bit. After all, ski and snowboard bases can always be repaired, right? (But don’t anyone tell Louie I said that, OK?, cuz I hear it steams him!)
So I don’t think ski areas’ decisions to open have much to do with greed. I doubt they make a huge amount of money on those first few days when the die-hard regulars are there anyway. Ticket prices are usually way-discounted and most of the customers are season’s pass holders who’ve already paid their money. It has to do with people having fun. It has to do with the folks in charge knowing they’re making it possible for others to have the time-of-their-lives enjoying the same things they enjoy.
So thank you Commenter-in-Response Peter, who appreciated Crystal’s "consistently pushing the envelope and letting those of us who love to ski in any conditions get out early in the season". And yes, Gondola construction made opening even trickier, and the fact you noticed and mentioned it warms mah li’l heart!
Having said all that, remember early season conditions aren’t for everyone. Ya’ gotta be extra careful, keep your eyes peeled, and keep reminding yourself that there’s not as much snow in your favorite spots as when you were last there last year!
If you’re bringing friends or family who aren’t familiar with early-season conditions, always make it part of your responsibility to warn them about the increased possible hazards. Tell ’em that a lump that looks like a snow drift might be a stump that can stop ’em abruptly. Tell ’em that a little depression in the soft snow might be a hole down to some running water. Tell ’em that a dark spot can be a rock that’ll stop ’em and flip ’em upside down. Remind them to slow down and keep their eyes focused on where they’re headed!
Like I said at the top, the snow is filling in nicely now. But with the new snow on the way, remember that there still hasn’t been tons of traffic (snow compaction) in avalanche starting zones. When the snowpack is thin the avalanche hazard is often HIGHER than later-on when strong layers bridge weaker ones. I’ll say that again: LESS snow sometimes leads to GREATER avalanche hazard compared to when there’s more snow! (Seem counter-intuitive? Take an avalanche class!) So please respect our closures….they might be there to save your life!
And if you’d like to study avalanche safety and forecasting with Crystal Mountain Patrollers who are most familiar with the local snowpack, contact the Northwest Avalanche institute.