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.
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.
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.
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.
I pulled out of Spokane at 7:30 a.m. with five inches new snow on the ground, and light rain falling. It’s a slippery mess, and a bit dicey getting up the mountain.
I had thought about skate-skiing again, but that plan changes when I hit the resort area. My car can’t make it up to the Nordic area with all of the new snow. So I head to the Mount Spokane downhill area and start climbing with my AT gear.
It’s blowing 30 mph and a whiteout as I clear the trees on the lower slopes. I know Mount Spokane well, so I’m not worried. Mostly. But it’s a legit whiteout — you can’t see more than 20 yards in any direction. I settle for simply going up in the featureless terrain.
On I trudge. It’s here somewhere, right? Not a sign of any humans, or any human-created shelter. All I see is white.
Then, slowly, I’m feeling like I’m cresting the mountain. Suddenly, the ghostly shape of a park building with ice-crusted microwave towers emerges from the white. I duck out of the wind and take off my skins. A few pieces of ice fly off the towers … maybe I shouldn’t hang out here too long.
I’ve decided to ski the trees on the “backside” of the mountain. It’s a confusing maze on top, but once you drop down, there are some lovely glades to explore. The trick is to find the glades amid the maze.
So I head down through the trees, thinking I know where I’m going.
And then I’m lost. All I see are trees. I had been pretty cocky about skiing the backcountry on Mount Spokane, but maybe I’m being stupid. How many people have gotten lost and fallen into a tree well up here, I wonder?
Hmmm. I try a tentative turn to the south. Nope, this isn’t right. I head a little west. It’s looking a little better. Maybe …
One of the glades finally emerges and I know where I am. It’s great. Protected from the wind, it’s soft and feathery. I finish the 500 vertical feet of tree skiing, following a familiar path I’ve taken dozens of times.
I return to the top and ski out through the resort, finding plenty of untracked turns still available at the lift area.
There’s something I love about being in extreme weather — and living on to tell the tale.