Long ago, when I was twelve-years old, Crystal played catalyst to my first snowboarding experience. It was here that my friend Bill and I quickly came to realize snowboarding’s budding countercultural cache. After purchasing tickets fair-and-square, we approached the chairlift, only to be outed as radicals. Unbeknownst to us, snowboards were not allowed at Crystal. Skiers roared taunts from the overhanging chairs as the lift-op threw my hat in my face and physically dragged us from the line. Yeah, it was awesome. Suffice it to say, we knew we were on to something good with this snowboarding thing.
While much has obviously changed for the positive in the last two decades, the resort’s general “vibe is still a little stodgy. Weekend liftlines can be crowded, there’s no terrain park, season passes are expensive, and parking can be a navigational nightmare. Furthermore, beware the ski patrollers (particularly the weekend volunteers), they can be overzealous when enforcing the resort’s “no jumping policy.
However, don’t let any of that scare you—there are definite upsides to Crystal. The new Campbell Basin Lodge is beautiful, the resort receives 380 inches of the lightest powder in Washington State, and the north backcountry terrain is generous and challenging (nowhere else let’s you shred three miles from the resort and delivers a shuttle every 30 minutes to pick your happy ass up). And lastly, the views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades are truly awe-inspiring.
With a 3,100-foot vertical drop, 50 trails, and 1,300 shred-ready acres, Crystal offers lots of engaging possibilities. From a riding standpoint, you can certainly exhaust yourself here. On a powder day, the place is genuinely epic and limitless. From an amenities standpoint, however, it’s a little lackluster. Though Crystal likes to bill itself as a “Northwest destination resort, it lacks many of the off-snow accoutrements that would put it in the big leagues with, say, Whistler/Blackcomb. There are no nightclubs, no wacky pool parties, no public skatepark, and no upscale restaurants or shops in the “town center. Which is just fine with the locals and family-minded weekend warriors. If you want to get your “I shredded Austria jones on, you can always have a beer at the Snorting Elk Cellar. That’s about it. Otherwise, buy a time-share and start the party yourself, or head 76 miles northwest to Seattle.
From Seattle, take I-5 south to the I-405 north, Exit 154A toward Renton. Hop onto Washington 167, Exit 2, toward Renton/Auburn. Rifle down Washington 18 east toward Auburn, then take Washington 164 southeast toward Enumclaw, and hang a left onto Washington 410 east. Another left onto Crystal Mountain Boulevard. The parking lots are six miles up the road. Arrive early/leave early—the parking and one-lane traffic is hellish.