Draining the last of my morning coffee, I step out of the lodge at Crystal Mountain and look up at Washington State’s first and only gondola. The lift opened last year, and it whisks eight people at a time up nearly 2,500 vertical feet while keeping them warm and dry. But that’s not what most people here are raving about: it’s the easy access to higher, less-traveled slopes and the promise of an extended ski season that resonates. All that, and when conditions allow, the new gondola puts previously hard-to-reach sidecountry and backcountry within reach, too.
As we cruise up the side of the mountain, enjoying the panoramic views of Mount Rainier (14,410 feet), I ask a local what he thinks of the new gondola. “Crystal Mountain already offers 2,600 skiable acres and 57 runs,” he says. “We’ve got a 92-inch base, and I think we’ve gotten over 300 inches total this year, so we’re sitting pretty—and there’s plenty of time left this winter for even more snow. We’re definitely excited about how the gondola opens up Green Valley, and I’m looking forward to a long spring season.”
I spent the morning carving through the several inches of snow that had fallen overnight, and in the afternoon I was able to sneak in some fresh tracks through the trees. Later, I hit the Snorting Elk. The Bavarian-themed ski-in bar is a local favorite, offering microbrews, cocktails, and, as the man I’d shared the gondola with said with a grin, “…bold-faced boasting from the bartenders.” —Charlotte Austin
For more information, visit crystalmountainresort.com. Photo of Crystal Mountain taken by Don Svela/Crystal Mountain.