2006 | Crystal inside-out – and upside-down

October 29, 2006 

Skiers leave their marks on Silver King at Crystal Mountain Ski Area. Crystal, which gets about 385 inches of snow each season, offers 1,300 acres of terrain served by lifts and 1,000 acres of backcountry.

JANET JENSEN/THE NEWS TRIBUNE

Perhaps nobody has experienced more of Crystal Mountain than Keith Rollins.

The South Hill Ski Mart manager tours up the hill at 5 a.m. on powder days just to get the first lines.

He guides backcountry tours and is often referred to by Crystal’s staff as the resort’s best skier.

And Rollins, who has skied at Crystal for 23 years, once wrecked so bad his friends had to pull him out of a tree.

The crash happened 10 years ago while he was ripping under the Rainier Express lift.

After about three turns, Rollins hit a chunk of ice. The next thing those on the lift saw was a man flipping head over heels like a rag doll into the trees.

When his friends got to him a few minutes later, Rollins was unconscious and hanging upside down.

Rollins woke up as the ski patrol loaded him onto a toboggan. Not much later he was taking a helicopter ride to a hospital.

The epic wipeout didn’t spoil his love for Crystal, however.

“I was skiing the same run three days later,” Rollins said. “But I felt like I was drunk for about a week after that.”

Rollins offers a few tips for creating your own – hopefully less violent – Crystal memories.

GO STEEP

Rollins’ favorite steep run is Pinball Face, off Silver King. It starts out at about a 50-degree pitch before relenting to about 40 degrees. The upper run is narrow and shouldn’t be attempted unless you are an expert.

SKI NORTHBACK NOW

If you like taking untracked lines all day in Crystal’s North Country, this is likely the last year you’ll be able to take advantage of this tradition in some areas. Next year, Crystal is putting a new lift in that is certain to bring more skiers to this part of the resort.

“There will still be a lot of stuff the lift won’t service,” Rollins said. “But some of those end-of-the-day runs will be skied out.”

BEAT THE CROWDS

On a busy Saturday there’s really no place you can go to get away from the crowds in the ski area. If you want to get away, you’ll need to head to the backcountry.

“Even intermediate skiers can go out there,” said Rollins, who skis the backcountry with his 9-year-old son, Blake. “I can watch my son ski down an intermediate bowl, then take something steep and meet him at the bottom. But some people are just scared of the unknown.”

Crystal cleared some trees here in 2005, making the North Country the best skiing at the resort, Rollins said.

EAT AT THE ELK

Rollins’ favorite place to eat is the Snorting Elk Deli.

“The pizza is pretty darn good,” Rollins said, “but Taco Tuesday is hard to beat, too.”

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE

The state’s best terrain. More backcountry than any other resort in the state. And Campbell Basin Lodge might have the best lodge food in the Cascades.

WHAT YOU’LL HATE

Good luck parking within a third of a mile of the lifts on weekends and holidays. And, on these days, standing in lift lines will wear out legs before the skiing does.

THE BIG RUN

Vertical drop: 2,602 feet

Lifts: Chinook Express to Forest Queen Express to High Campbell Chair.

Hardest way down: Hit the steep double-diamond Powder Bowl, then hook up with single-diamond Little Portillo. Cut under the Rainier Express lift, pick up Deer Fly, another expert run, and finish in the beginner area.

Easiest way down: Ski across the Campbell Basin to The Throne for a double diamond descent to the beginner slopes of Queens Run, Tinkerbell and Quicksilver.

WHAT’S NEW

A new roof on the kid’s club, and the parking lot has been repaved.

RESORT STATS

Lift tickets: $53, $48 ages 11-17. $28 ages 70 and older, $5 children

Season pass: $950, $835 ages 11-17, $275 ages 70 and older, $50 ages 10 and younger. $750 midweek.

Night skiing: $28, $23 ages 11-17, $5 ages 10 and younger. Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 8 p.m. on three lifts

Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 1,300 acres serviced by lifts, 1,000 acres of backcountry, 400-foot long half pipe

Lifts: 10 lifts (two high-speed, six-passenger lifts; two high-speed quads; two triples; three doubles; one children’s surface lift)

Trails: 50 runs (13 percent beginner, 57 percent intermediate, 30 percent advanced)

Summit elevation: 7,012 feet

Base elevation: 4,400 feet

Vertical drop: 3,100 feet, including backcountry return

Annual snowfall: 385 inches

More info: 360-663-2265; snow line 1-888-SKI-6199; skicrystal.com.

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