Crystal Mt., March 23, 2005
In a meager winter like '04-'05, we grasp at any opportunity for glisse. Not having time for the drive to the North Cascades Highway goods on a Wednesday due to work schedules, Kevin, Francine and I decided on a day trip to Crystal, hoping the 17" of snow in the past 24 hours reported on the NWAC telemetry site wasn't too far off base.
Arriving at the Black Diamond Bakery, I found Kevin and Francine wolfing down the majority of a gargantuan cinnamon roll. We proceeded to pile in the Audi and they began to regale me with tales of their just-completed trip to La Grave, France. Seems they were having a bit of an off-snow year there as well, but the awesome steep terrain and 8,000 ft. vertical at the area made a big impression.
Pulling into the Crystal lot, we did the logical thing and parked snow-adjacent in the Ski Patrol mini lot, enabling us to skin from about 50 feet away. The unadulterated dirt of two weeks prior had been replaced by a dense, frozen carpet (yes, about the thickness of a carpet in places) of rain and sun crust, but it made for a fast ascent toward Green Valley.
At about 5,800 ft. the quality of the snow changed dramatically, and as we rounded the corner into Green Valley we began to hope for the best. The snow was reasonably light, if wind-affected, but the real question was "how deep"?
The S/SE facing part of the valley, near the terminus of the Green Valley lift, looked abysmal - much worse than it had in December when it had looked good and we had hammered out bases within three turns of dropping in, so we stayed near the Lucky Shot cat track directly under the restaurant, and peered over the edge. It didn't look that great; stabs with poles indicated about eight inches of coverage near the ridge. However, reasoning that we were already there and that skis were made to be skied, we began the descent. Somehow the combined density of the snow and windcrust gave us just enough floatation to keep bases above rocks, and none of us suffered any damage on either of the two really nice runs we took in GV.
Our post-lunch plans called for a quick run up Silver Queen, as we figured Powder Bowl to have a similar exposure as Green Valley and possible goods to offer. Kevin and I both were a little put off by the large amounts of rock and grass showing on the ridge of the Queen and looker's right side of Powder Bowl, which prevented us from going around the back side or getting an early elevation jump on the traverse, but a number of kick turns (and a bit of booting) later we were at the top. A slightly thicker windcrust greeted us on the descent, but the turns were good and made us happy.
The way down to the car was a mixed bag - about the first one-and-one-half faces of Lucky Shot were fine, but about half way down the last one the snow turned VERY abruptly from skiable to unskiable crust. We were reduced first to jump turns, then to gingerly executed stem-christies, and finally to a wide track snowplow on the frozen snowmobile track down C4, but hey, it's still skiing, right?