With an active weather pattern this week, we’ve been busy with avalanche control. On Wednesday we planned to open the upper mountain predicting that the winds would be kind to us. Not so. We ended up with a big crowd skiing only the lower half of the mountain, where the temperature rose and turned Tuesday’s powder to Wednesday’s shmoo.
The locals I spoke to all seemed to understand. Sometimes the weather wins. But there were many others that let their tempers flare. With Snoqualmie Pass closed that morning and earlier in the week, I suspect that the biggest complainers were those less familiar with Crystal’s vulnerability to high winds.
Our fingers were crossed that Thursday would bring redemption. The day started off well–the winds subsided, the snow up high was smooth, temperatures were dropping, and it was snowing big flakes the size of 10 year-olds.
Then Highway 410 closed and we lost all communication. At 4 am yesterday morning we had no internet, phone or cell service. A few patrollers made it up the road at 5 am, but reported scary conditions. They’d had to cut through the downed trees with the chainsaws they carry in their trucks. Even without wind, the ice storm brought down several big trees between Mud Mountain Dam and Federation Forest. From Greenwater to Crystal, the road stayed open. As of 5:30 am Friday morning the road remains closed with hopes they’ll open by first light.
Yesterday Crystal was like a private ski area for the 500 people that either stayed in a hotel or RV or live in Greenwater. Unfortunately we could not get any word to the outside world about the road closure on our morning report, and I’m sure many people came up to ski but couldn’t get here.
By 7 am we had a cell phone at the top of Rainier Express with enough coverage to reach an employee in town. With hand-written notes ferried up the Gondola to the patroller with cell service, the message finally got out. It was little more than two cans and a string.
Looking at the Facebook comments, many people expected us to do more. I’m here to say that we did all that we could to let folks know about the road closure and the conditions. Ditto with Wednesday, when the ticket sellers informed those buying tickets that the upper mountain was on wind hold.
Here’s the take-home lesson: We all love storms; they bring the snow we all crave. But storms also bring wind, ice, fallen trees, down lifts and a million other catastrophes. If you’re going to come up during a storm, bring the essentials; be prepared for anything; and leave the attitude at home.
For up-to-date information on Highway 410, check the WSDOT website for the very latest.