Spring Break Shenanigans Sans Kiddos
Who remembers back when they were in college? The memories of those notorious Spring Break destinations like Daytona Beach, South Padre Island, Lake Havasu, Cancun, Palm Springs, etc. are permanently etched in history. Thankfully, there wasn't social media or cameras to capture some of the debauchery. Well, for us mountain people, we also appreciate the fun in the sun. And, the mountains also make for some great Spring Break destinations. We just add a little more snow, instead of sand. And, we may not necessarily be looking for the blackout inducing nights of drinking. Although, there's nothing quite like a refreshing beer in the resort's parking lot after some slushy pow laps. Here's a story about some Spring Break shenanigans that involve a little less debauchery and a lot more powder fever.
Lake Tahoe, and the entire snow sports industry, have gone through quite a few changes in recent years. Liability issues and earlier closing dates have definitely put a hiccup in many plans for Spring Break adventures in Tahoe. Kirkwood has gone away with their Spring Jammin' sessions. Heavenly doesn't get the crazy, late day, park sessions it once used to with those spectacular views of Lake Tahoe as a backdrop. And, in general, the days of coming to Tahoe on vacation and leaving on probation are a bit frowned upon these days. But, Spring still means longer days, softer snow, and sometimes the occasional pond skimming adventure, all mixed together with the surprising potential for some late-season, sneaker, powder days.
Spring also means that some of the resorts farther to the north might have a better chance for some late-winter, cold snow, shenanigans.Many of those resorts even allow RV and trailer camping right at the base of the mountains. Couple that with the increased number of resorts included as Ikon and Epic pass destinations. Not to mention that there are some great independent resorts scattered in between the numerous breweries and hot springs across the Pacific Northwest. Add all that together and you have a recipe for snowy, Spring Break, shenanigans.
Spring Break Adult Style
Although we love our kids, we also love the opportunity to chase powder and far off adventure like we were still younger. Try that with kiddos and it doesn't always work out like you planned. Well, in a weird way, we're thankful that we're divorced and certain holidays are split between custodial parents. This often gives us the opportunity to get away without the kiddos and experience different adventures that we may not be able to do with the kids. It's almost a best of both worlds, although it is pretty awesome to share each of these adventures with the kids.
Our Spring Break 2019 plan was to head north and explore some new terrain. This meant that we had to get over 1000 miles down the road north to the Cascades. Due to an unfortunate DUI, Canada was out of the question. So, we set our sights on Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass, and The Summit At Snoqualamie in Washington state. These resorts were all covered by the Epic and Ikon passes, so there wasn't going to be much out of pocket costs. But, there was definitely going to be an adventure getting there. How much of an adventure was yet to be discovered.
We've already spent a good amount of time in Oregon. So, Oregon was less of a destination and more of a pit stop. Not that we hadn't had great days at Mt. Bachelor. But, Hoodoo might be a good alternative place for a pit stop, as well as Mt. Hood. So, we loaded up our Toyota Tacoma equipped with an AT Overland Habitat and headed north for some spring, cold-weather, snow camping adventures.
Good For The Soul
Long drives can wreak havoc on the body. But, when you can end your day can end at a hot springs resort, then you make that detour. We visited Summer Lake Hot Springs before, so we knew right where to go. It was a nice drive for our first day of travel and it didn't require us to get too unpacked for the night. Swimsuits (optional after 9pm, flip flops, and a towel is more than enough.).
Summer Lake is just over the border in Oregon and setup for tents, RVs, cabins, or even day trippers. The main bathhouse has been around for quite a very long time. But, it's not dilapidated or run down. In fact, it looks like there has been some recent improvements to make everything more hospitable. Also, the springs are open 24hrs. So, there's no excuse not to stop.
Camping is pretty affordable, and it includes the admission for the hot springs. Plus, there are showers, flush toilets, and lots of room to take in the Oregon Outback.We highly recommend Summer Lake Hot Springs (https://www.summerlakehotsprings.com). There are definitely some great natural, undeveloped, hot springs out there. But, sometimes the amenities help keep hot springs habitable and safe for everyone. Too many hot springs have been closed, due to pollution, neglect, and inconsiderate bathers.
Time For An Audible
As is often the case, travel plans can change as quickly as the weather. Oregon, and the entire Pacific Northwest, is known for it's ever-changing weather. Chasing snow is a different animal than chasing rain. As I checked the weather, it looked like the Cascade Crest was getting a mix of precipitation. Snow levels were rising to well above 7k feet. So, should we hit Hoodoo, or head further North to Mt. Hood? Hood has a much higher elevation, but it wasn't guaranteed that all this precipitation was going to fall as snow.Time to settle down, research the weather, as well as the additional time on the road, to get a new plan that would work out well.
Thankfully, Bend, Oregon isn't too far north from Summer Lake Hot Springs.Bend is always one of our favorite places to grab a yummy bite and a tasty beer. Plus, good wi-fi would work better than the intermittent cell service in the Oregon Outback. Now, we had to to decide on one of the many great food options in Bend.
As everyone knows, "What do you want to eat?' is a challenge for any relationship, especially when you might already be hangry. So, we started looking at places we've been, as well as some new options. Google Maps wasn't really helping things as it led us through a detour into the Mill District. After a quick bit of frustration, we changed our navigation to Waze, then eventually Apple Maps. It was determined that a beer might be welcome with our food while we worked out the next stage of our adventure.
We crossed the Deschutes River again and headed towards the west side of town.We had passed a couple good looking places when previously headed towards Mt. Bachelor. And, we had heard some pretty supportive recommendations in the past for Sun River Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing. Their food was ranked as high, if not higher, than their beer selection. So, let's find parking and give these places a shot.
Parking was not as easy as we expected, but eventually we found a good place on the street. Of course, it was in front of Sun River. But, we had decided on 10 Barrel (https://www.sunriverbrewingcompany.com/locations/galveston-pub and https://10barrel.com/pub/bend-west/). After a bit of back and forth along the sidewalk, we finally decided that 10 Barrel was going to be the spot for food. Both of these places are great options for food or drinks. Maybe we'll stop in at Sun River on the way to the car for one quick bevy? So, we walked back towards 10 Barrel and made our way to a table to check weather, maps, menus, and get a new plan.
Being pretty hangry, we ordered a couple oyster shooters for some quick nourishment. After those arrived, we felt a bit better. So, we ordered a couple sample size beers (they'll offer as many samples as it takes for you to decide).We were pretty indecisive for food and beers. The samples were a mixed blessing. Each sample made it a bit difficult for the food and drink pairings. Eventually, we decided that a yummy elk burger and their veggie salad with sockeye salmon would be great for sharing. As for beers, we each had our own opinion on what paired best. Well, sometimes that makes things a bit easier. Let's get a couple beers that are total opposites and share. One big decision down, now another to go.
Ever Seen The Shining?
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on Mt. Hood. It actually wasn't in person. I was watching The Shining's opening sequence with Jack Nicholson's VW meandering up the flanks of Mt. hood.That drive up to Timberline Lodge captured my imagination. I know that The Shining is actually based on The Stanley Hotel out of Estes Park, CO. But, this image of Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge was forever etched inside my mind. And, I wanted to share this powerful image with my girlfriend, since she hadn't seen many of the Pacific Northwest's amazing, volcanic, peaks.I should've also remembered the first few times I experienced Mt. Hood in person, especially with the Northwest's tendency to hide it's majestic peaks from view.Well, we decided to make our way towards Mt. Hood to experience one of the Cascade's greatest peaks.
Driving north from Bend, the weather was actually pretty clear. But, we could see clouds forming to the west. As we continued north past Smith Rock, the clouds gradually made their way overhead. First, it was rain. But, with each change in elevation, the rain transitioned to snow. This was great for our snow adventure. But, the clouds shrouded any possible views of Mt. Hood. I guess Tammy would have to wait for another opportunity to catch a glimpse of Mt. Hood. At least it was snowing.
Since we didn't have passes for any Mt. Hood resorts, our goal was to use the hiker's route and split board above Timberline Lodge. But, we needed to figure out a few things, specifically the latest snow reports and where we should go for a base camp.
Timberline is a flashback to another time. The lodge is easily one of the great remnants of the past. Oregon timber creates the structural bones for the lodge. Then, the windows and entrance are architectural reminders of Mt. Hood towering behind high above. We decided to make a quick pit stop at the lodge to hit the bathroom and check out some of the history associated with the lodge. Plus, this would be a great place to get some information regarding the snow conditions and permits.
But, seriously where could we setup camp? It was a bit cryptic whether we could setup camp at the base of the hiker's route. With fresh snow falling, we were informed to be cautious about the snowplows in the lots. But, we were also informed about hikers "waiting out storms" in their campers. I definitely didn't want to be awakened in the middle of the night to move. And, the heavy, wet, snow wasn't making us feel comfortable about the snow stability for split boarding. Well, maybe Mt. Hood just wasn't meant to be on this adventure.
We came off the mountain and headed into Government Camp. Here, we could see what other options we had for camping, or even night boarding. Honestly, it was day two and we still hadn't been on our boards. I was getting a bit frustrated. But, we could get frustrated or just enjoy the adventure and keep our goal of Crystal, Stevens, and Snoqualamie in front of us. In reality, this was still part of the journey and not the destination. Light was starting to fade for the day, so we better move to a place where we can safely call it a night.
Not far down the road from Government Camp is a place called Mt. Hood Village RV Resort (http://www.mthoodvillagerv.com/our-resort/). We read a quick bio and decided that it might be a good spot to stay for the night. We could easily head back up to Timberline, if the snow conditions improved. Or, we could get a good night's sleep before hitting lunch in Portland. The prices weren't cheap. But, they made up for it with nice amenities.
We pulled into the resort's office right as they were closing. The staff was very accommodating and friendly. We checked the map (http://www.mthoodvillagerv.com/media/com_rv/uploads/resorts/sm-mthoodvillage0818_1536350561.pdf), and found a nice campsite off the beaten path. Their facility comes with electrical hookups for our heater, a community hot tub, a pool, and even places for THOWs. That's Tiny Homes On Wheels for those not in the know. We pulled in, popped the Habitat, and shared stories with our neighbor, who just so happened to work for Thousand Trails - the owners of this resort and 190+ other resorts across five zones through the US and Canada. Who knew that you could buy a camping pass? Maybe we need to research a bit more in the future? Feel free to check them out at https://www.thousandtrails.com.
Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls
With most of our snow adventures turning into rain, it would only make sense to seek out some of the area's great waterfalls. All along the Columbia River Gorge are some amazing waterfalls. The most famous may be Multnomah Falls. So, with Crystal still being our best bet for snow, we decided to grab a quick bite in Portland, meet some friends, then head east through the gorge to Crystal. Stay tuned, because this adventure gets a bit more exciting, thanks to Google Maps.
We're not really city folk, but we definitely love to find good food. Over the years, I've definitely found some yummy food in Portland. I've even been fortunate enough to be there for the Oregon Brewfest, tasted fresh doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnuts, and enjoyed the infamous options at Pine State Biscuits, as well as so many other food options. However, a friend of mine constantly reminds me that we need to checkout the restaurant Gravy (http://gravyrestaurant.com). Well, this would just happen to be the perfect time.
Gravy is known for their breakfast and lunch specialities. My southern roots forced me to choose between the biscuits and gravy and the fruit brûlée. Tammy chose to go for a more PNW style dish with the smoked salmon hash. Let's just say that I chose very wisely with the biscuits and gravy. But, Tammy was a bit turned off by the excess grease associated with the hash. Either way, I felt like a winner, since I got my gravy fix, then I got to finish her yummy hash. It all worked out well, because Blue Star Donuts (http://www.bluestardonuts.com) was just down the street. Maybe I should say that it all worked out very well for me. I guess Tammy will get to choose the next spot for food. Now that at least one of us is full, it's off to head out for our waterfall tour up the Columbia River Gorge.
It's not that far of a drive east to get out of town from Portland and into the heart of the gorge. In fact, it's actually a very beautiful drive. We had come in to Portland from Mt. Hood along the other side of the ridge from the Columbia. Now, we were following the shoreline as we headed up river. The Columbia is a mighty river. I can only imagine Lewis and Clark exploring this uncharted land. Every new bend must've been another astonishing sight. For us, all the recent precipitation meant that the falls would be raging. It wasn't long before we pulled off the highway and followed a frontage road towards Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls is a 600+ foot cascading waterfall that drops through two tiers on its way to greet the waters of the Columbia River. According to local Native American history, Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who was seeking a hidden place to bathe. I wouldn't exactly call this a private area. Expect there to be lots of other people admiring the falls. But, I hope the princess got her wish. After all, it does make for a beautiful story. I just hope it doesn't inspire others to take a dip in the turbulent waters.
Multnomah Falls aren't the only falls along this drive. There are many other waterfalls in close proximity. I think I spotted over seven waterfalls along the south side of the Columbia River Highway. One of the least populated was Horsetail Falls, just east of Multnomah Falls. I always like to escape the crowds and this area helped keep the experience peaceful and tranquil. Even though this area is quite lush and verdant, there are scars from recent fire activity. Not even the wet, Pacific Northwest is safe from forest fires. So, please keep a close eye on any irresponsible activity. We'd all like to be able to experience this beauty as if it was when Lewis and Clark first set eyes on it.
Yuk, Yuk. Sorry Folks, Park's Closed.
Ever had the feeling that something just isn't quite right? I miss the old days of paper maps, so I still keep a few in my car. Sometimes, I'm more diligent than others at double checking. And. this adventure should've been one of those times. But, if I had, maybe we wouldn't have discovered our next awesome place. This place also had the "best meal of the trip", according to Tammy. She may have been right. And, if it weren't for our misdirection, then we would've skipped right past this place.
As we got closer and closer to Hood River, my Google Maps navigation was still giving me two options to go to Crystal Mountain. I didn't feel like backtracking west, so I trusted the navigation's guidance and continued east. I knew that gas was going to be scarce, so I stopped in Yakima and filled up our tanks. There, I even double checked my Google navigation with Waze. Both of them were telling me to head west through Hwy12 and 410. However, the further up the road we got, the more I had that unsettled feeling. I saw signs for White Pass Ski Resort, but I didn't see any for Crystal Mountain Resort. The sun had set, so some of the road signs came and went pretty quickly. Tammy and I both saw one sign that seemed directed at White Pass. But, I still felt like we were on a good route...until we approached Cliffdell.
As we passed through Cliffdell, I saw a sign that Chinook Pass was closed 22 miles ahead. Why would my Google Maps not be up to date on this? We live in the Sierra Nevada and Google Maps wouldn't show Hwy 4, 108, 120, or many others that close seasonally as open, so why is this showing as open? Well, guess what? I think it's time for us to seek out some local knowledge. I saw a place not far back down the road, so we looped back and went inside to see if we could get any information or some wi-fi to research our options.
I opened the door to the Whistlin' Jack Lodge (https://www.whistlinjacklodge.com) to be greeted by a young lady singing karaoke. The place wasn't packed, except for a small group at the bar. So, Tammy and I went in to see what our options might be. Imagine our surprise when we learned that Chinook Pass closes in the fall and doesn't usually open until the summer. Well, time to order a beer and figure out our next move.
It just so happened that the Whistling' Jack Lodge has been around for quite some time. The Williams family have been the proud owners since 1957. Well, we were talking with one of the Williams' family members, Lincoln, while his wife was singing karaoke. They understood our predicament and offered to let us setup the Habitat in the parking lot. I appreciated their offer, ordered another cold beer, and they recommended getting one of their cabins next to the river or even one of their rooms at the lodge. After all the adventure, and it being late, a room at the lodge sounded pretty inviting. We bought a drink for our new friends, shared a few stories, and called it a night.The Whistlin' Jack Lodge was A-OK in our book. Good people, good history, and a welcome home after a long day on the road.
Our trip was becoming less and less planned and more of an impromptu series of events. We still haven't gotten our feet on our boards. But, we've definitely had numerous, exciting, adventures. Being on the east side of the pass meant we were in for a long drive to get to Crystal. Well, we had two other original spots on our list. What about Stevens Pass Resort or The Summit At Snoqualamie? As is often the case, time to order some breakfast and see which way the wind blows us.
We didn't exactly jump out of bed, since things were so up in the air. We got up, checked out around 11, and headed over to the restaurant. The restaurant overlooks the river and it's rustic decor is an ideal match with the lodge. Reading the menu, I felt like we were being cooked dinner from a longtime family friend. Everything sounded so good, that we had to ask for an unusual request. Would it be possible to blend two dishes from the breakfast menu and the dinner menu? They happily obliged, so we created an eggs benedict with fresh cod and spinach, instead of the ham. Well, this is the meal that Tammy claimed as "the best meal of the trip". Honestly, it really was an amazing blend of flavors and textures. I think we may be on to something. Feel free to see if it becomes a staple on their menu.
With full bellies and being well rested, it was time to get back on the road. Well, we really only knew that we were headed towards I-90. What direction we would take there was still to be decided.
Rain Or Shine, We're Hitting The Mountain
The forecast wasn't really making things easy on us. Snow levels were hovering pretty high. As we read the snow reports from Stevens Pass and Snoqualamie, we had to make a final decision. Do we keep heading north and risk it at Stevens Pass or shorten the mileage and just cut back over Snoqualamie Pass? Both of us would be content heading to the ocean, even though we really wanted some deep snow. But, how do you really ever know about the snow, unless you go? Screw it. We're headed to Stevens Pass. Sorry, Snoqualamie. I guess you'll have to wait for another adventure.
There's a town on the way to Stevens Pass named Leavenworth, WA. They have created their take on a Bavarian village. Well, they also have a local shop with their own take on a Bavarian Bakery. I'm always a big fan of bakeries, especially when they tap into their European roots. Ever fueled a European adventure in the mountains? It usually starts at the bakery.
Don't expect a website or even much beyond a yummy bakery with the Bavarian Bakery (1330 US Highway 2, Leavenworth, WA, 98826 - (509) 508-2244). I was happy to see an Austrian cookbook for sale, as well as a display with a couple yummy cakes, pastries, etc. This is almost exactly what I was looking for. No, it's not down in the historic village. But, it's right near the grocery store, gas station, and it makes a great treat for the rest of the drive up the pass to the resort.
Speaking of the pass, this drive is an amazing drive filled with views of towering peaks, the Wenatchee River, and many of the farms along the way(quite a few apples). The drive begins low in elevation, then takes you up and over the pass and into the Snoqualamie National Forest. A lot of people think that Stevens Pass is situated in the exact, perfect, spot for the confluence of moist air off the Pacific and cold air off the Upper Columbia River. This combination produces an amazing abundance of snowfall, so this was exactly what we were looking for.
We arrived at Stevens Pass Resort (https://www.stevenspass.com/site) just as the resort was closing for the day. It was the end of the weekend and the lot was clearing out quickly. We checked out the RV parking lot, then ventured into the village to check and see what the conditions looked like. There was fresh snow on the hill and in the lot, so that was a good sign.We let the weekend warriors clear out, then we eventually made our way back to the F lot. That's where the RV parking and hookups are located. Sites are able to be reserved online (https://www.stevenspass.com/site/trip-planning/directions/rv-parking) and that's how we had to pay, since nobody was there at the booth onsite.
Stevens Pass Resort - Now Epic
Tammy hasn't kept up to date on her season passes. Passes are great when the backcountry conditions are questionable and when you want to ride as a family. But, passes also make it too easy to go get a couple laps in and call it a day. Or, they can lead to issues with overcrowding on weekends and holidays. Well, Stevens Pass Resort recently joined the Epic Pass. So, thankfully I have a pass and a few comps to burn. Stevens Pass looked like a great place to ride and it even reminded me of home.
Certain times of the year, Stevens Pass offers night skiing and riding. That's a great option to really get the most out of your day. Plus, they have an entire backside of the mountain with the Mill Valley area. Unfortunately, this was a Spring Break adventure. Both of these options were unavailable. But, that shouldn't stop us from enjoying the mountain.
As I said, it had snowed before we got there. Plus, there was snow continuously in the forecast for the next few days. So, time to setup camp, fix a yummy dinner, and settle in for the night. Tomorrow will be a full day adventuring and exploring a new mountain.
Not knowing an area is always intersting. It can be pretty daunting exploring new terrain, especially when there are options to get cliffed out, end up in drainages, or following trails that lead to areas that might require a walk to get back. I studied the map and found a couple areas I thought we should explore. We started with Skyline and Hogsback. These chairs were fun, but not too challenging. They were a great, conservative, choice to get a feel for the snowpack.
Our next choice was a trip down memory lane. Kehr's chair was a flashback to the age of double chairs. I'm sure quite a few people would just say no to historic doubles. But, there really is something nostalgic about an old, double, chair.
With the visibility being intermittent, some fresh, heavy, snow, and us not knowing the mountain, exploring had to require a certain level of trust. But, trust is one thing. Liking and feeling comfortable navigating some of the situations we found ourselves on the mountain is definitely something else. Coming down off of Tye Mill, I inadvertently sent a rock band that I thought was more rider's left. Tammy ended up almost airing onto a rock. But, we liked the area. So, we kept going back for more. Even better, we were learning more and more about the area with each new lap.
Double Diamond was late to open because of the additional snow safety needed. The lower sections were definitely mixed conditions. They were very rideable. You just had to be prepared for some thicker and heavier snow. But, the top was a lot heavier. I could see this area being awesome on a fresh, soft, powder day. But, when the snow is that heavy, then it's not really that fun. So, we headed back to the other side of the mountain. I'm pretty sure Tammy was happy with the decision to leave that area behind.
There were so many awesome zones that were closed off to hiking, because of the avalanche danger. So, we kept finding little stashes in the trees. Tye Mill had a bowl that eventually ducked into the trees. Plus, it had an area that led to a hikeable ridge off Skid Row. With the snowpack conditions, this ridge could easily be called "Slid Row". There was slide after slide, all along the ridgeline.
We decided to head back over to Skyline. At the top of Skyline was 7th Heaven. Clouds kept playing peek-a-boo with this zone until I finally got a clear glimpse of the runs above. I wanted to head over there, but Tammy wasn't interested. She said she'd wait for me at the bottom of 7th Heaven. Well, she may have made the right call.
First, as I was headed up the 7th Heaven lift, the clouds came back and obscured the view. Then, when I reached the top, the area I wanted to ride was closed. Now, I wasn't sure which way I was headed back down. I rode Cloud 9 along the Ridgeline and got caught up riding a good patch of snow. Pretty soon I found myself standing over a couple rocky zones with a nice double drop down towards Skyline. I tried getting Tammy's attention, but I was too low. So, I dropped down to the bottom and headed back up Skyline to meet her at the top. We both decided that was enough fun for the day.
Stevens Pass definitely has some fun terrain. In retrospect, we feel that a mid-winter trip would be a lot more rewarding. My favorite areas were off Double Diamond, Tye Mill, and 7th Heaven. But, with our snow/rain mix, these areas were definitely hit and miss. I love the fact that you can camp at the base of the mountain affordably with electrical hookups. The people were definitely great. And, the mountain does a great job of having a little bit of something for everyone. I highly recommend Stevens Pass and hope they're able to survive their inclusion on the Epic Pass. But, don't expect any high dollar amenities or fanciness. Stevens Pass is for the family that wants to get out and ride.Then, they'll all meet in the parking lot for a beer and BBQ. That's my type of mountain.
We Finally Made It To Crystal Mountain. Is It Worth It?
After the mixed conditions at Stevens Pass, we were really hoping for some drier snow conditions. We weren't expecting champagne powder in the Cascades. But, we were hoping for something that was a bit more stable and fun to ride. I actually like our conditions at home in the Sierra. Yes, it can be Sierra cement. But, it can also be bottomless powder that doesn't get too heavy or blow away with the first winds. How would the snow at Crystal compare to home, as well as our most recent findings?
We arrived at Crystal Mountain Resort (https://www.crystalmountainresort.com) around 5pm. The parking lot was pretty well cleared out. There were only a few RVs lined up in the B lot. And, the rest of the parking lots were ghost towns. It was mid-week conditions, well into spring. I'm not sure what I expected. But, the stories that I've heard about the infamous B lot had me expecting a lot more. I can definitely say that I was happy to see RV spaces available (https://www.crystalmountainresort.com/plan-your-trip/lodging-trip-planning/holiday-rv-parking/), as well as a little fresh snow in the parking lot. We pulled in, found a good spot, paid for it, then went to explore the base area.
Crystal Mountain's base area is pretty simple. We walked up to the upper lot, past the Snorting Elk (https://www.crystalhotels.com/the-snorting-elk-cellar-at-crystal-mountain/), and into the main base area. Everything was pretty well shut down for the evening. I was pleased to see an information sign regarding their uphill policy(https://www.crystalmountainresort.com/the-mountain/mountain-safety/uphill-travel/). And, I also noticed that there was an abundance of terrain that was not necessarily lift-accessed, but hike to terrain. Basically, they had an in-bounds "slack country" zone that people could explore at their own risk. I can't believe that their health and safety department approved such terrain. But, we weren't in California anymore. I had a pretty good idea where we were going to go tomorrow. So, time to head back to the truck and call it a night. There was another long day of exploring new terrain tomorrow.
The first lift for anyone from an intermediate or above going to Crystal Mountain should be the gondola. The gondola takes you from the base area, all the way to the top of the mountain. From there, it;'s possible to explore the advanced terrain off the Green Valley chair or head over to the Ranier Express for a mix of blues and blacks.The Snorting Elk zone and Grubstake areas were some of our favorites. There were little glades that could be ridden with some minimal traversing. But, there were also some steeper zones with exposed rocks. The snow was actually quite a bit better than the day before. But, it was still a bit heavier than we were used to riding. After an adventurous top to bottom run through some avalanche debris off the rock face, we decided to explore more of the mountain.
We loaded the gondola for another trip to the top. But, at the top, we headed towards Sunnyside and The Doors. The snow was a bit different on this aspect. But, it wasn't junk. We followed it down to Rainier Express. From there, we had our eye across the valley on the Bear Pits. But, the Bear Pits would require a long ridgeline hike, or we had to head over towards the Chair 6 area via Forest Queen. Time to explore more and find some new terrain.
Forest Queen is a nice intermediate zone. But, it's a quick shot at the top to Chair 6. Chair 6 gives you access to the Campbell Basin, along the ridgeline. And, it provides access to Powder Bowl, as well as the Bear Pits off the promontory ridge. This area quickly became one of my favorites. But, you also better pay attention to your line selection. There were quite a few mandatory airs or chutes to navigate. Everything was relatively straightforward, if you paid attention. Thankfully, the visibility was finally being cooperative. And, the snow was some of the best on the mountain, rivaling the Green Valley zone.
Here's where the local knowledge really comes in handy. If you continue looker's left beyond Campbell Basin, then you cross over the ridge to A-Basin, and eventually down Southback and into Crystal Basin. This area is not lift-accessed. This is all "slackcountry" in the Southback zone. Even though this area is patrolled, I would definitely recommend not venturing beyond the gates unless you're well-prepared for self-extraction, in case of an emergency.
After a great day exploring Crystal, the Snorting Elk Cellar (https://www.crystalhotels.com/the-snorting-elk-cellar-at-crystal-mountain/) is a great place to drop in for a beverage, dry your gear by the fire, or even get into a competitive game of chess. We just so happened to time our visit with local's night. Local's night includes a raffle for prizes, as well as some entertaining karaoke. We had some good neighbors from the B lot join us for a night on the town. And, let's just say the night was a night to remember. Tammy even won a Snorting Elk hat as part of the raffle.
The next morning we awoke to the sound of avalanche control bombs and more fresh snow on the mountain. We may have not been too quick to get out to enjoy it, thanks to the Snorting Elk. Our neighbors even offered to put our boards in line to hold our place. But, we took a more leisurely approach to get on the mountain. The snow was good. And, I'm sure we missed out on some legit powder turns. But, we still had fresh tracks when we went up 2hrs later. Pacific Northwest pow days are definitely a different breed than Tahoe. But, even a heavy snow day is better than a no-snow day.
All Good Things
Every Spring Break adventure should end with a wealth of stories to share. I do remember a Spring Break in San Carlos Mexico that went on for more than 14 days. And, I've definitely had some in Tahoe that start at the beginning of March and don't end until May. But, all good things must eventually come to an end.
We learned a LOT about skiing and riding through the Pacific Northwest. There are so many places that we didn't get to visit, like White Pass, Willamette Pass, Hoodoo, Mt. Hood, and so many more. Not all of these will probably find their way onto an Epic or Ikon pass. But, there's nothing wrong with supporting a Mom and Pop area. We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to legitimately camp at these base areas. It was also better to camp with electrical hookups for heat.And, we met some great people that share our same passion for skiing and riding. That's what Spring Break adventures are all about.
One day, I would really like to have the entire family join us for a similar adventure. We could mix equal parts mountain and ocean for an even greater adventure. Now that we know a little bit more about the resorts and what the snowfall is like, we can plan a better adventure. Spring Break 2019 is definitely filled with lots of memorable stories and will be an adventure to remember. What will Spring Break 2020 bring?
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