Weather, Wind Hold, Road Closures and other Catastrophes

Leah Fisher battles the wind on Niagras

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.

For those that made it on Thursday, the mountain was a private playground

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.

16 thoughts on “Weather, Wind Hold, Road Closures and other Catastrophes

  1. Phil

    Hi Kim and Crystal Mountain Management,

    Let me start by saying I love to ski Crystal Mountain and have been doing so for over 15 years.  I am one of those people that you described in your blog post as being understanding of the conditions and the fact that sometimes it just isn’t safe to open the mountain.

    That being said, I have always felt that the communication and attitude that Crystal Mountain Management displays is hard to understand.  Your customers (the people who make your paychecks possible) have repeatedly complained about slow dissemination of information regarding road closures and lift status, and your unwillingness to offer refunds or even discounts when certain lifts don’t open. 

    Let me give you some advise since you have so willingly offered yours on your blog, treat your customers with respect, they are paying a LOT of money for the services you provide.    I don’t doubt that you are being truthful when you say that you had no way to communicate that the road was not going to open, but you could still apologize for the situation and say that you are trying to think of ways that you can have better communications with your patrons.

    Finally, your comment of “leave your attitude at home” is so arrogant and condescending. I’m sure there were people up there with bad attitudes, just like occasionally you have employees with bad attitudes.  It is best to deal with those individuals one at a time, I highly doubt that anyone reading is going to think to themselves “your right, I will have a better attitude next time”.  Blanket reprimands is not what I consider to be good customer service and does not promote the smiles and good attitudes that all of us hope to see at the mountain.

    A loyal customer


    1. Chris

      I have echo the comment above – when you are in the business of serving others it does no good to be so condescending.  A simple “hey guys – it got real ugly up here and we are sorry we couldn’t the word out” would have sufficed.  If the people coming up to the mountain are showing attitude it could be b/c they are getting a lot of attitude back.

      There was a lot of shock from my ski buddies that you guys were open at all given how crazy the winds were and we are definitely on the understanding side as Phil noted above, but I feel like recent interactions with mountain management have been getting nothing but negative lately.

      I also realize that ya’all are the folks that keep our butts safe n’ sound and not mountain management – so thank you for what you do, especially given the gnarly conditions.


    2. Phil, Steve et al,
      Thanks, as always, for your comments. The intention of this post was to inform, not to reprimand or condescend. Needless to say, we’ve been especially challenged by the weather conditions this week, and I wanted to let everyone know what it looks like from our end. Obviously Steve we DO have the ability to make emergency radio transmission via our Fire Station and were able to call in two ambulances yesterday. Since emergency vehicles were allowed to come up the road, our patients were transported without incident. After this week, we now plan on getting a satellite phone as well. We realize that the conditions and road closures were real bummers, and we’re sorry for that. We’re sorry we couldn’t get the word out any better than we did.


  2. Steve Muntner

    Thank you for the patronizing lecture. 

    Crystal Mountain is subject to wind and adverse weather conditions.  This is a fact that one must often deal with if they choose to ski at Crystal.  It is a concern that is “on my radar.”  I can follow the national weather service as easily as anyone else and make a determination as to whether or not I want to come up skiing and take the chance.

    I’ve encountered car accidents and other situations that close or delay 410 for periods of time.  Again, this is another potential inconvenience I choose to accept when I come up to Crystal.   These can happen at any time and I understand when they catch me by suprise.

    I don’t typically anticipate the possibility of a road so ridden with fallen debris that it remains closed for 2+ days.  But, this was a result of a pretty significant winter storm and, of course, no one is to blame — for that.

    HOWEVER, Crystal Mountain’s failure to communicate the road closure, whether due to inability, oversight, or an indefensible business decision is something that I did not anticipate and that I am unable to understand. 

    Crystal Mountain management is certainly familiar with avalanches, winter storms,
    wind and any other number of natural forces that can wreak havoc on access, operations and communications.

    I am led to believe that power, cell phone service and internet failed at Crystal.  Modern communications can fail but the lack of contingency plans is alarming and raises a number of questions: 

    -Why does a fairly remote mountain ski resort where serious injuries can result from the snow sports it customers engage in not have radio access to state authorities, satellite phone  service and sufficient generator power to operate both?

    -What would have happened if one of the 500 customers enjoying the “private ski area” had fallen and struck their head or broken their neck?  Would Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol been unable to call for a helicopter?

    -Why were notes being sent up by gondola?  What happened to your two way radios?  This absolutely baffles me.

    Everyone that woke up and checked the Crystal Mountain website prior to approximately 8am had no reason to believe that the Resort was cut off from the world.  (This was later updated in fairly inconspicuous text below the snow report detailing all of the recent snow.)

    Many of your loyal customers made the decision to make the long drive up on icy roads which were also ridden with fallen debris with the intention of reaching Crystal for a day of skiing.  I  acknowledge that everyone is responsible for their own well being and safety but with accurate information from Crystal it certainly changes the calculus in regards to whether it was worth the risk to venture out.

    I think the facts suggest one of two conclusions — neither of which is flattering. 


    -Crystal withheld the information in hope, or belief that the road would open early and allow paying customers access to the ski area;


    Organizational Incompetence:
    -Crystal failed to anticipate or plan for an easily foreseeable eventuality and in doing so unnecessarily contributed to an unsafe environment.

    Crystal Mountain – I will make you a deal.  I will leave my attitude at home as long as you agree to get your act together.

    Steve Muntner



    1. Steve,
      Your comment offends me to the core. Crystal Mountain did everything in our power to get the word out that the road was closed. We updated the website, our Facebook page and the Twitter feed via a weak cell phone signal from Mt. Top. As I mentioned in my comment, WE DO HAVE an emergency radio at the Fire Station and can call for an ambulance or helicopter for emergencies. In fact, we did during the road closure. Obviously we would not operate if this was not in place.
      To suggest that Crystal was being “dishonest” is what I find so offensive in your comment. Come on. Do you really think we’d want our customers to drive all the way up on icy roads only to be turned around? Give us a little credit here. We are not a mindless corporation. We are a family trying to provide the best skiing experience possible while operating a business.
      Certainly we’ve learned some new take-away lessons from this week. It’s time to invest in a satellite phone, for one thing. We also realize how important this information is to people. We know this is a long drive.
      The intention of my post was to provide insight and honesty into the operations side of things. Sheesh. Maybe next time I’ll just keep mum.


      1. PT

        Kim, you’re not new to Washington are you?  Because we boast the largest population of whiners anywhere!  You see, we’re entitled to whatever we decide we deserve- and when and if mother nature gets in the way, well you better fix it.  Your problem.  We’re paying you.  hahah… seriously, you guys rock, thanks for all you do.  Let the whiners pout, maybe they’ll stay home next time!


  3. bb

    For something completely different; regarding the often-commented post on skis-in-line, at about 8:15 Wednesday morning I looked out the window of the lodge and laughed. There must have been 50-100 pairs of skis-in-line and not a body to be seen! Given the howling wind, I waited inside for the lift to open and the line to thin before “enjoying” the goods.


  4. Erik

    Is there a general rule of thumb about wind closures? I.e. how much wind can the lifts withstand before you need to keep ’em closed? If there are sustained winds in the 30-40mph range can we assume there will be wind-related holds or closures?


    1. Erik,
      Each lift is a little different. It depends not only on wind speed, but also wind direction. Most lifts can withstand high winds blowing right up the line, while it will take much less wind blowing across the line to cause problems. With wind, we are worried that the haul rope will derail off the sheeves. Wind blowing perpendicular to the cable is the biggest danger of this. We have anemometers on lift towers so we can monitor these wind speeds.


  5. Troy Langley

    What about Crystal getting a satellite phone?  Then conditions could always be relayed off the mountain to someone that could update the website, tweet, email or whatever.  Also could be a backup generally for emergencies.  The older Iridium models have come down in price.  Maybe you already have one.  Anything to help set expectations helps lower the frustration level.  Works with kids and powder starved skiers.

    Kim, thanks for the behind the scenes info.  Keep it coming.



  6. Greg

    Thank you and the entire CM team for working to keep the mountain open and safe.
    As skiers – we are fortunate to be able to enjoy both the time and expense the sport requires… for those complaining… remember – there are still thousands of homes still without power because of this storm… yes.. sorry for your inconvenience but honestly… get a clue!


  7. GregBo

    Hey Crystal Team…. this seems like a good place for a suggestion….
    First – as a long time skier (epecially Crystal) I’m a weather watcher…

    I would like to see wind speed bottom and top… listed on the weather section of the
    Crystal website… It will increase skiers evaluation of conditions and help address some of the concerns some have posted in this forum…

    Just my two cents..


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