Resort Ski for Free – Here’s How

  • Day 28 – March 29, 2016
  • Crystal Mountain
  • Vertical for the day: 10,000
  • Year total: 572,000

A little-known fact about Crystal Mountain ski area: With a little effort, you can ski for free.

Just strap on some skins and start heading up the slopes next to the Quicksilver lift.

Dropping into the Southback.

Once you reach midmountain, you can traverse to the Forest Queen lift and load at will, no ticket needed. You have just saved $72.

SkiZer used this approach for day 28. It was a stunning bluebird day. The SkiZer first climbed into Silver Basin, reaching the slopes of Three-Way Peak. After a stellar powder run, SkiZer loaded the Forest Queen chairlift to access the Southback, where two more runs made it a day.

All for free.


Boxcar Chutes in Silver Basin.





Kickin’ it Old School for an Epic Day

Day 27: March 25, 2016

SkiZer hikes Grubstake for a run down Snorting Elk at Crystal Mountain.

There was a time when the SkiZer went for broke on ski days. There was no stopping for lunch in an effort to push for maximum vertical.

In recent years, SkiZer has made some concessions to age. He’s almost 60, for god’s sake. Short stops for coffee and food are now deemed acceptable.

But Day 27 was a throwback: No stops. The result was the SkiZer’s biggest daily vertical total of the season on another excellent March powder day at Crystal Mountain.

With 10 inches new over the last two days and cold temps, conditions couldn’t have been better. And as the season winds down, the SkiZer wanted to squeeze the most out of the day.

Best shots were off the Northway chair (where everything was amazingly soft) and in the South Backcountry, where SkiZer hiked for a memorable drop down Sasquatch Chute.

Steep and deep: Preparing to drop into Sasquatch Chute.
Skiers climb into the South Backcountry at Crystal Mountain.


Meeting and Exceeding Your Ski Goals

SkiZer shreds off the Forest Queen chairlift at Crystal Mountain.

Day 26: March 17, 2016

At the start of the season, SkiZer set some goals: Ski at least 500,000 vertical feet, log at least 25 days.

SkiZer has reached fulfillment day, in corporate-speak. It’s all gravy now.

Recent storms left the slopes at Crystal Mountain fast and soft. SkiZer and a friend, Kari Collins, spent the morning skiing groomers. After a sunny lunch at the lodge, SkiZer hit it hard in Campbell Basin and on the day’s best run, Northway Peak.

As the afternoon sun cast long shadows on the chalky Northway slopes, SkiZer had to ask himself: Will this be the last day here? After all, goals have been met and this season is a huge success.

But let’s hope not — why not go for 30 days?

Kari on Queens Run at Crystal Mountain.
SkiZer peers down the chutes on Northway Peak, the day’s best run.

Powder Manifesto: Making the Most of a Big Day

Horseshoe Cliffs on Crystal Mountain’s Northway chair.

Days 24 & 25: March 14-15, 2016

Late-winter storms have just delivered two of the best powder days of the year.

While racking up vertical, the SkiZer found himself thinking about powder-day strategy. His chairlift meditations led to the following Powder Manifesto.

Build powder karma

Powder attracts a crowd, there’s no getting around it. When you have a bunch of aggressive dudes competing for fresh turns, there’s bound to be bad behavior.

Don’t be That Guy.

Example: SkiZer was enjoying a stellar start when he arrived at Crystal Mountain’s Chair 6. A crowd of skiers and boarders was waiting at the lift like a pack of hungry jackals huddled over a kill. The line slowly inched forward.

SkiZer found himself on a chair with one of the snarling jackals. As we neared the top, the lift abruptly stopped, and we waited … and kept waiting.

It was a mechanical failure. The Crystal Ski Patrol sent word that we might be stuck for a long time, and possibly even need to be evacuated. As we sat gazing at the powder below, my chairlift mate became increasingly agitated.

Finally, he’d had enough.

“I’m going to jump off!” he screamed.

A ski patrolman stationed at the top of the lift heard him and shouted, “If you jump, we’ll pull your ticket.”

Good karma, free ski pass.

As soon as the patrolman left sight, the jackal leaped into the fresh snow and skulked away. SkiZer stayed put.

Ten minutes later, the chairlift started and SkiZer was quickly off.

“Thanks for your patience,” the patrolman said, handing over a voucher for a free lift ticket for the next day.

The ski jackal disappeared. SkiZer likes to think he was caught and sent packing. But even if he wasn’t, SkiZer played by the rules, built good karma, and got a free ticket out of the deal.

Stay with a winner

Too often, skiers take a great run, then rush to what they imagine will be an even better run. This often leads to disappointment.

SkiZer believes that if a run is good, you should stay put.

Example: SkiZer headed to the Northway chair and found first tracks on the run Penny Dawg’s. It was fantastic.

For whatever reason, hardly anyone was taking this thrilling drop, so the SkiZer returned, milking it for four untracked runs. Penny Dawg’s paid off big time.

SkiZer takes one of four great runs down Penny Dawg’s.

Stay strong

Mornings are intensely busy on a powder day. The crowds arrive early and compete for every turn.

SkiZer calls these people “The Hit It and Quit It Crowd.” They go hard for a couple of hours, then leave. If you can stay strong for the entire day, you’ll be rewarded late.

Example: The Hit It Crowd was long gone when a late afternoon flurry dumped fresh inches of snow on the hill. SkiZer stayed until the final bell and scored fresh tracks on empty slopes.

Traverse to Throne
Traversing on the top of Chair 6 toward the Throne.

When to hike

SkiZer believes in staying in-bounds on a powder day until the slopes are completely skied-out.

Many of the ski jackals are obsessed with scoring freshies. At the first sign that the backcountry is open, they stomp, swear and push people out of the way as they rush for first tracks.

Why not go for the low-hanging fruit first?

Example: The South Backcountry opened and a steady conga line of skiers rushed out of bounds. As the feeding frenzy went on in the backcountry, SkiZer still found great lines in-bounds.

Later on, SkiZer did go hiking.The rush of the jackals had passed, and SkiZer found fantastic turns in their wake.

Try this move

SkiZer likes to think that he has a sixth sense that draws him to hidden untracked snow.

One technique that seems to pay off every time is the “Patented Cutback Move.” Here’s how it works:

When you come to a ski run, don’t immediately turn downhill. Instead stay high, keep traversing, and then, like a big-wave surfer in Hawaii, make your “cutback” onto the run. Other skiers will have cut in early, leaving fresh tracks on your cutback side.

Don’t be greedy

A final thought in the Powder Manifesto: It’s a big mountain out there with lots of lines to ski. You can afford to hang back and let a fellow skier grab that powder shot while you watch. If you do, good karma will reward you with your own freshies — guaranteed.

Afternoon sun opens near the King.
Skiers enjoy the slopes of Paradise Bowl on Northway.

Foggy, Wet and Fast on Mt. Hood

Base area of Mt. Hood Meadows.

Day 23: March 11, 2016

The day looked promising when we rolled into the parking lot at Mt. Hood Meadows. New snow, a new mountain to explore.

Soon, any great expectations for Day 23 of the SkiZer season were forgotten.

The falling snow turned to rain. A dense fog hung over the slopes, closing all but a handful of chairlifts. Off-piste was beyond funky, leaving only a few groomed runs to ski.

The SkiZer and his cousin, Tom Olason, gamely tried to make the best of it. But after a few runs, it was clear the day was a washout, prompting us to hit the whiskey flask early. The liquid fire warmed up an otherwise dreary day.

Our biggest problem was the fog. Not really knowing where we were going, or which chairlifts were open, we spent a lot of time trying to navigate in the abyss.

At a certain point, the day turned into what the SkiZer called “a naked grab for vertical.” We settled for skiing a few fast groomers over and over to simply log some runs. After hitting 21,000 vertical, we called it.

Mt. Hood Meadows is probably very nice. It’s hard to know based on this day.

A wet groomer for the SkiZer at Mt. Hood Meadows.
Tom Olason hits the foggy slopes off the Hood River Express.
Happy trails: SkiZer and Tom call it an early day.

Finding Fresh Lines in a Southback Sojourn

Just below the summit of  the King (7,012′) in the Crystal backcountry.

Days 21 & 22: March 7-8, 2016

Hitting it hard.

That was the goal for days 21 and 22 at  Crystal. As the winter days dwindle, the SkiZer is feeling some urgency to rack up as much vertical as possible before it’s all over.

Conditions couldn’t have been better. Temps were cold, the powder was fresh and the crowds were gone.

SkiZer on “The Beach” in Silver Basin.

In-bounds skiing was good, particularly on the north-facing aspects, but conditions were even better in the South Backcountry (Southback), accessible by hiking. SkiZer spent much of both days taking some thrilling drops off of the Throne (6,600′), the King (7012′) and Silver Basin.

The Southback terrain is wild and gorgeous. The hikes can feel a little draining, but the runs more than paid off with the season’s best powder shots.

And it’s not over yet.

Hikers, including a Crystal Mountain patroler, on top of the Throne.
A hiker heads up the King.
Skiers drop off the cornice into the powder of Silver Basin.
Dropping into one of the Throne chutes above Chair 6.

Like a Lion on the Slopes of Stevens Pass

Cowboy Mountain and the slopes of Stevens Pass.

Day 21: March 2, 2016

  • Stevens Pass
  • Vertical for the day: 20,000
  • Year total: 343,000

Spring may be teasing us, but it’s still winter in the mountains. And day 20 of the SkiZer season brought a 10-inch dump to the slopes of Stevens Pass.

It was not all pretty powder turns and face shots. The snow was dense and heavy, making for some leg-burning runs.

Skiers take a morning cruise on Hog Heaven at Stevens Pass.

“This is work!” another old-timer said to the SkiZer at the base area of Stevens Pass. He was calling it a day by noon. True, it was work, but it was still skiing, which is better than being in an office even on a great day.

Unleash the hounds!

But … back to the beginning. The powderhounds were in line, barking for the lifts to open as the SkiZer arrived 10 minutes before opening. Avalanche-bomb explosions were echoing off Cowboy Mountain, adding to the anticipation.

Finally, the gates opened and the hounds hit it. The best shots were off of the Double Diamond chairlift on Big Chief Mountain where the snow remained cold in the north-facing shadows.

Click on maps to enlarge.

The sun came out in midmorning, drawing the SkiZer onto the south-facing slopes of Mill Valley. The top was dense — but fun — the bottom was an epic slog in the sun-saturated snow.

After an excellent coffee break (you rule, T-Bar Market barista!) the SkiZer hit the upper slopes of Seventh Heaven. Freshies were discovered on the SkiZer’s old nemesis, Bobby Chute, and Cloud Nine.

By 1:30 p.m., the next system was moving in and the legs were shot. It was back to Seattle for a bath and whiskey-themed therapy.

Top of Polaris Bowl on the Mill Valley side of Stevens Pass.