A Very Lucky Ski Season Comes to an End

One of the luckiest ski seasons in history ended at Crystal this past weekend. Lucky because of the fortunate timing of our weather events. Usually when it rains here we shrug our collective shoulders in disgust. We wonder why our ski areas can’t be 1000′ higher. We envy the cold temps of the Rockies and marvel at the light snow of the Wasatch. We know that with just a bit of luck, we could have the best skiing in the world. But alas, this is the Pacific Northwest–home of Cascade concrete and plastic-bag wearing locals and the birthplace of Gore-tex. We don’t expect perfect snow.

The King getting filled in

But then we have a season like this one. We anticipated an El Niño; our imaginations were primed for groomers. Narrow-under-foot ski sales were up. Goggles sales were down. Everyone was picking out a good pair of sunglasses. And dusting off their foul weather gear.


We never knew that this season the stars would align for us. The ocean currents would fall into sync and we would get very, very lucky.

Not a bad spot for a morning meeting

That’s not to say it didn’t rain this season. It rained like crazy. And that’s where we got lucky. It rained on Wednesdays. (I know this because Wednesdays are my day off.) In fact it rained eight Wednesdays in a row (I was counting). But each subsequent Friday, right before the weekend crowds arrived, it snowed deep and light and repaired the rain-soaked slopes with a glorious quilt of powder. Every Saturday for two months was a powder day.

As most of you know, when conditions at Crystal are good there’s no ski area like it. By March, the north-facing slopes were filled in like I haven’t seen in over a decade. Pinball resembled a fairway, just a slight undulation where normally a deep, narrow gash splits the north face of the King. At its prime this season, the upper mountain held over 10 feet of snow in places.

Middle Ferk’s groomed to perfection

As winter turned the spring, the weather continued to cooperate. The last three weekends were legitimate spring conditions. The corn developed into large isothermal grains, creating slush bombs along the frontside and into Middle Ferk’s. The cat crew groomed these bumps every night back into corduroy, and the snow bar at the Summit House was a huge hit. We all came away with awesome goggle tans and bruised livers. The past few weeks were one long party, and the final closing was a little sad.

Now it looks like next season might be a La Niña, which means colder and wetter than usual. What do you all say? Isn’t it time for two lucky seasons in a row?

Peter Dale getting some well-deserved pow

As the Most Interesting Skier in the World would say, stay powder-hungry my friends.

Introducing Our New Dirtbag Royalty


Arlington Ashby, Kate Markquart amd Creepy Friend

Saturday night Crystal patrol crowned the Dirtbag King and Queen for the 2016-17 season. Every year, we vote on male and female candidates that best embody what it means to be a “Dirtbag.” In the parlance of our ski area, being a “Dirtbag” is a good thing. A very good thing.

It’s more than simply being a ski bum. You could be a ski bum at any number of ski areas with far more options–more couches to surf, more singles to date, more bars to frequent. At Crystal, you have to be dedicated to the sport. You also have to be dedicated to the lifestyle. To be a ski bum here truly means that you’ve given up other *ahem* amenities in favor of dedicating yourself to skiing at Crystal. But in my humble opinion, there’s no better place to be a dirtbag.

This season’s honorees are no exception. These two have both dedicated their lives to Crystal. Your new DB King is Arlington Ashby. You know him from the Snorting Elk, where he has either a) served you a drink at the bar with an enviable efficiency and/or b) showed you the door because you 1) danced on a table and tried to swing from the chandelier, 2) got a little too rowdy with the shotski or 3) let your dog come inside and drink from your beer stein. Either way, Arlington did his job with a thousand-watt smile and a generosity of spirit that demonstrates one thing: Arlington loves this place. When not slinging drinks at the bar, Arlington can be found snowboarding, alpine skiing, telemarking or touring in and around Crystal. He’s a man of many talents with true dedication and a kindness that pervades his every move. We on the ski patrol and within the royal court are so pleased to welcome Arlington into the fold. Congratulations Arlington on your dedication to this place. You’re going to make a great King.

Your new DB Queen is none other than the amazing Kate Markquart. You know her from her Airstream Trailer–the one with the wood stove–that can often be found in either B Lot or F Lot. Kate and her husband Nate spend most of their nights camped in that trailer (leaving only often enough to fulfill the USFS policy of 14 consecutive nights camped within the boundary.) Kate can also be found riding (or skiing) the mountain on any given day, that shy smile and blond hair carving a wake of beauty and grace. Kate has the face of an angel and a heart of gold. Just try keeping up with her. To know Kate is to love her, and she’s going to make a great Queen. Congratulations Kate!

We consider the DB King and Queen to be ambassadors for the patrol, and we take their role seriously. We honor their dedication to the sport we all love. It takes many years to become part of this Royal Court. For those of you that have ever given up something in your life–a mortgage, a better job, a girlfriend/boyfriend that just didn’t get it–in order to pursue your passion for skiing or snowboarding, then you understand a little of what it takes to wear the crown (or Wapiti Woolies Dirtbag Hat in this case). When you see Arlington and Kate out on the hill, throw them a high-five. They deserve it.

Photo of the Day: Bluebird Powder

Fresh snow and now sun. It doesn’t get much better than this. Today is one of those days that make me want to pinch myself. The day started early with Avalanche Control in Southback. The snow was still falling  and the conditions were pristine in SE Trees, one of my favorite stashes on the mountain. Then about noon the sun came out. There were still some fresh lines on Exterminator. The forecast is calling for more sun tomorrow. Come and get it while it’s still good.  

15th Annual Dirtbag Ball on Saturday

It’s that time of year again when the Crystal community reaches into its collective costume bin, dons wigs and top hats, scarves and mini skirts, and dances the night. The 15th annual Dirtbag Ball is happening this Saturday at the Bullwheel. This year’s theme is “Under the Big Top.”

Tickets are $25. Raffle tickets are $5. On sale now in the patrol room at the base area. We have some really great prizes this year. All proceeds benefit the ski patrol, allowing us to further our education in avalanche training, avalanche dog training and medical training. Plus, it’s the party of the year. Don’t miss this one. DBB_Tic (1)

The New Arrow in our Avalanche Control Quiver: Gazex

You may have noticed our three Gazex exploders in Powder Bowl. They are hard to miss. After a full season under our belt (2014/15 doesn’t count), it’s time to ask ourselves how effective these bad boys truly are.

exploders_powder bowl
Exploder #1 in the foreground, with #2 and #3 to the left

Just the other day someone on the chairlift asked me if they were winch cat anchors. While we do some serious high-angle grooming here at Crystal Mountain, that would be a bit extreme even for us. Nope. These are Gazex Exploders and they spit out a fiery boom to create avalanches.

These exploders work by mixing oxygen and propane and then lighting it on fire. The igniter is essentially a glorified BBQ lighter. You know that tick, tick, ticking sound that happens when you press the red button on the side of your Weber and then it ignites? Imagine that but about a gazillion times bigger. Let’s just say that the whoomph sound in Powder Bowl can be heard all the way down in A Lot.

Chet Mowbray, the Snow Safety Director at Crystal, calls Gazex “a very effective tool.” It allows us to fire the exploders remotely. This means we don’t have to be at the top of Powder Bowl to start avalanches. We can be in patrol dispatch. We have also fired Gazex at night, when the snowcat operators need to drive under Powder Bowl to get to the top of the mountain. During a heavy snowstorm or when the avalanche hazard is high, this allows our cat operators a safe way to move around the mountain.

Gazex is also fast. The current speed record at Crystal from start to finish is ten minutes. Any opportunity to shave off a few minutes on a powder morning so we can get the lifts spinning asap is a good thing.

gazex_powder bowl
Powder Bowl with Gazex Exploders

One Gazex explosion is the equivalent of 25 pounds of explosive in the air. Most of the explosives we use for avalanche control are 2 pounds. When an explosive is “in the air” that means it is hanging above rather than thrown onto the slope. By hanging a shot in the air, it affects a much larger area.

We hope to add to our quiver of exploders in the future. A few more in Powder Bowl would eliminate an entire Avalanche Control route, allowing us to open that much faster. Another location we are currently looking at is Rock Face–a permanently closed route with several trams and a cat track below it.

Gazex won’t eliminate hand routes, however. We will still need ski patrollers for AC here at Crystal. I, for one, am happy about that fact.

Gazex saves time, creates a bigger boom, makes it safer for our cat crew and shoots balls of fiery awesomeness onto the slope. What’s not to love?