While my love affair with Washington State is still at Level 5 Tom-Cruise-jumping-on-Oprah’s-couch proportions, the harsh reality is that my time here is running out. This winter is our last in the US (for now at least). So I have been using these last few weeks of snow to complete big ticket items that have been on our wish list for ages.
Which is how we came to spend our weekend at Crystal Mountain Resort!
Located on the northeast corner of Mt Rainier National Park, Crystal Mountain is about two hours drive from Seattle. But add the extra 90 minutes each way from our place in Anacortes and it’s a slightly unattainable day trip.
As one of the state’s most lauded and largest ski areas, Tom and I had both been super keen to go. So last weekend we decided to go big or go home. Snapping up one of the only available hotel rooms at Crystal’s ski in/ski out accommodation, we threw our gear in the Wrangler and made tracks toward Mt Rainier.
Let the ski weekend commence!
Brews and Chews in Enumclaw
With a long drive after a long work week, we decided to stop en route in the small town of Enumclaw.
Enumclaw is just an hour shy of Crystal Mountain Resort. It’s probably not a destination in its own right, but with a kickass local brewery and a decent restaurant scene it was the perfect pit stop for us. We enjoyed some local beers and board games at Cole St Brewery, and ordered way too much food for dinner at The Mint Restaurant & Alehouse.
I noticed next door to The Mint was a very funky coffee shop called The Local. This place just oozed cool and I knew it would serve great espresso!
Well-fed and well rested, we rose early on Saturday to get to the ski area for first chair at 9am.
Skiing at Crystal Mountain Resort
Unfortunately our hyper enthusiasm wasn’t met with weather to match. Crystal gave us the middle finger with grey skies, rain, heavy snow and high winds. The perfect combo for a day on the slopes, right?
The gondola and a few chairlifts were closed due to the wind when we arrived, so we took it as a sign to grab a coffee at Chinook Cafe. We would need all the energy we could get to explore Crystal’s 2600 acres of skiable terrain in these conditions!
Luckily the gondola reopened by 930am, and it was our preferred route to the summit to be protected from the elements a little longer. Fellow skiers will understand that a 10 minute chair ride in strong winds and thick snow can sometimes feel torturous!
Our first few runs of the day weren’t exactly stellar. Visibility was low, the wind and snow was strong. Much of the powder had blown off the runs, leaving plenty of crust to contend with. It was definitely tricky as newbies to the mountain, and we weren’t sure where to find a sheltered run with better conditions.
This wasn’t how I imagined our weekend at Crystal Mountain Resort!
After getting pelted in the face with ice for almost two hours, we took an early lunch break at Summit House. Every part of me was soaked, and I must admit I was feeling a little defeated by the elements.
A reference for my Aussie readers: you know when the wind kicks up at the beach and you get fiercely whipped by sand on your legs and face? This was like that, except ice is cold and sharp. Pure joy.
But I digress…
Summit House is actually Washington’s highest restaurant, located right by the top of the gondola. People come from all over to eat beside epic views, as non-ski visitors can purchase a gondola ticket without committing to the full lift pass. On a bluebird day, sweeping landscapes await of the Cascade Range and Mount Rainier – Washington’s highest mountain which stands 14400 ft. No such luck for me!
On a positive note, the northwest inspired menu had a tonne of yummy options. I went with a rich elk and bison chilli to warm me up, while Tom chowed down a burger. Not in any rush to return to skiing just yet, I sat back and watched the blizzard rage outside. And also watched fellow diners scramble as their skis got caught in the wind and flew off the racks outside.
Once I manned up, Tom and I skied for a few more hours. The wind and snowfall died down a little and we got a few peeks at sky between the clouds! And views of the valley! We messed around in the terrain park and found runs with decent powder by Chair 6 and Forest Queen, before heading back to the Green Valley area.
More than half of the mountain is intermediate runs, but I found myself on more black runs than usual in pursuit of better powder. Consequently there were also a few freak out moments when I found myself in challenging areas. But I nailed it!
It’s a shame we didn’t have the best conditions on the day, but it was easy to see how awesome and huge Crystal Mountain is!
My photos aren’t particularly inspiring, but the resort’s Instagram features some truly amazing pics of the views possible at Crystal. Check it out!
Fine print: An adult day ski pass is $74. Crystal Mountain Resort features 10 chairlifts and a gondola that offer quick access to 2,600 acres of skiable terrain. There are options for all levels here, including a terrain park. The resort has top-notch facilities too: a ski shop, rental and several dining and bar options in the Main Lodge.
Checking in: The Alpine Inn
Wet and exhausted by the time we made our last run down the mountain, I could not have been happier to ski right to the door of our hotel. It definitely made our weekend at Crystal Mountain Resort.
The Alpine Inn is the most budget friendly option, with a restaurant and bar attached. And it looks adorable!
While cosy, I thought the rooms were more than adequate for a ski weekend. I had heard mixed reviews about this hotel but I thought it was great. Certainly not luxury, but I don’t think skiers need that.
I loved the snowy forest view from my window and there was plenty of space to hang ski gear out to dry. Extra points for lockers in the basement to store our skis.
After the ultimate ‘splash and dash’ shower we walked the few paces to Snorting Elk Cellar. It’s an Austrian inspired ski bar full of character and craft beer on tap: and was voted one of the best ski bars in the USA. The bartender was happy to put the Sounders game on for us, so our afternoon beers quickly turned into evening beers with cheesy, delicious stone-fired pizza. There was even live music later in the evening.
So much better than driving the four hours back home.
Other accommodation at Crystal Mountain Resort: Village Inn and Quicksilver Lodge or Silver Skis Chalet. Alta Crystal Resort is located a 15 min drive back down the mountain. It looks amazing and has a hot tub, but sadly is always booked out when I’ve enquired. We paid $160 inc tax for our room at the Alpine Inn, and the convenience of ski inn/ski out was well worth it to me. A standard buffet breakfast is available for $12pp.
A Sunday snowshoe at Crystal Mountain Resort
Another bonus of ski in/ski out accommodation: no early rises!
Exhausted from skiing, we slept in and had a leisurely buffet breakfast with plenty of coffee refills. And yes, it was a buffet so yes I filled my pockets with a blueberry muffin and mandarin to go. It would be crazy not to, right?
Crystal hadn’t received any new snow overnight, and assuming more icy conditions we decided to forgo skiing (and the $74 lift ticket) in favour of snowshoeing. We picked up rental snowshoes at the main lodge for $30 each, grabbed a vague hand drawn trail map and made our way uphill.
Our destination was an old abandoned ski shack. The trail wasn’t too challenging, but we spent the first hour ascending up trails to reach the ridgeline. I worked up a sweat and immediately regretted wearing my thick ski pants.
This trail was perfect for the conditions as we got lovely views of the lower valley. The summit ridgelines looked completely socked in for most of the day, and not worth purchasing a gondola pass to reach higher ground. If it was a clear day we would have certainly made tracks for this trail as the views can be spectacular.
After a few hours of snowshoeing and snow fights, it was time to descend back down to the village.
While the weather gods didn’t look fondly upon us, our weekend at Crystal Mountain Resort was a blast! I’m officially a big fan of ski in/ski out facilities. Especially when it comes with craft beer and delicious pizza.
Are you planning a ski weekend at Crystal Mountain Resort? Ask me a question below or check out the resort’s website for finer details!
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