Backcountry Ski/Snowboard - Crystal Mountain Backcountry


Backcountry Ski/Snowboard - Crystal Mountain Backcountry

Easy going ski tour that includes a beacon search practice session

  • M2 Advanced Ski
  • Easy
  • Mileage: 8.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft


It takes about a half-hour to walk/take the shuttle up from "B-Lot" or "C-Lot" to Crystal's main lodge and visit the restroom.     Figure on arriving in the parking area around 8:00AM     

We will meet at the Lower Plaza at 8:30AM 

46.93552, -121.47470

 Those that don't yet have a "Crystal Backcountry Card" will need to obtain one by visiting Guest Services (The eastern most "ticket window")  The guest services window usually opens @ 8:30 

After everyone has signed Crystal's liability waiver and has their Backcountry Card we will head to the snow and do a beacon check.

Trip intended for folks new to backcountry  skiing to gain experience using skins and touring in a relaxed and low commitment setting.    Experienced ski tourer's will likely find the pacing a bit slow.   

The touring day will include a beacon search practice session (typically conducted in the Hen Sken Lakes area) and a snow safety study -- I direct recent graduates of the AIARE courses to conduct the snow safety evaluation in order for them to gain experience. 

Depending on the results of the snow safety study will select areas to ski (including choosing to head back to the groomers if the stability looks poor)  There are a wide choice of slopes above the Hen Sken lakes area -- from morerate "blues" to more challenging lines.    Lines selected will depend on snow conditions, group interest, ability and energy.    Typically two to three 500 vft laps in the upper area are made before heading to "The Snorting Elk" for a debrief on the day's skiing.

I will initial set the roster count to zero and then after the final sign up date -- I will selectively move people from the waitlist to the roster for a group size of  six.    (I will not be doing a random lottery as I did last year -- too much effort)   I will use the  following criteria:

1) Whether the person has been, is or will be on a backcountry ski trip roster in recent times -- with favor shown to people who have not. 
2) How much experience does the person have with backcountry ski touring -- with favor shown to people with little experience. 
3) Whether the person has Wilderness First Aid, or other medical training as is willing to act as a caregiver if there is a mishap.
4) Whether the person has participated in a stewardship activity in the last year (for example trail maintenace or something like that)
5) Whether the person is willing to carpool.
6) If there are people with the skills and willingness to act as a Co-Leader they may join the roster in that capacity and after we've completed the beacon search practice and snow safety evaluation portions to lead a small group separated from the main group.  Additional co-leaders will allow expanding the total roster count, with each co-leader leading two or  three other skiers. 
7) Whether the person is using skis or a splitboard.    I led several of these Crystal trips early in the season.    Last year I was able to arrange it so that one trip was mostly splitboarders -- which was a lot of fun.
This trip will include a beacon search practice session.   We will likely do this in the meadows near Hen Skin Lake.    Please bring an extra stuff sack and some padding to wrap your beacon in.  Padding could be an extra sweater,  foam sit pad, bubble wrap, etc.   A tupperware or ziplock box to place your beacon in is also a good idea.   We will pair off and one person will bury their beacon and their partner will practice their search skills.   
The steepness of the terrain is modest -- I reccommend that your "Lift skiing skills" be that you are at least a confident "Blue Run" skier and are able to descend easier "Black runs" without undue fear.   We will be skiing through the trees some.  We will ski the more challenging sections with care.  Remember that a "stem turn" is a powerful backcounty ski skill.    We will travel as a group to ensure that no one become separated.

My GPX  data from some prior trips, we won't follow this exactly -- but this will give you a general idea of the area where we will tour.

In my prior trips to this area -- there is bench partway up (labeled "Party Knoll"  that provides good stopping place and skiing down from there minimizes exposure to avalanche hazard and is  more of a "Blue Run" level of difficulty.    Depending on conditions this might be the high point for the day.      There is also an option for climbing a  higher onto some more "Black Run" level slopes whether we do with will depend on snow stability analysis and group interest and energy.   

If the group is especially energetic and conditions favorable ,  it is possible to tour through "3 way gap" and ski down to Crystal Lakes.   However we will not head up to the main saddle in Silver Basin  -- the trip leader's feeling is that there is too much exposure to lift served skiers  dropping in on those slope.

In prior trips we have done 1 or 2 extra laps of roughly 500vft in this upper area.

The ski/ride out from the basin @ 5800 ft involves a small amout of "rolling terrain"  Splitboards are advised to have their poles at the ready through this section so that they can double pole in some sections instead of having to unstrap.

Note:  A Winter Storm Warning, Extreme Avalanche Forecast from NWAC, Freezing Rain or "Chains Required" on the highway will cancel the trip.    If NWAC forecast is for a High avalanche hazard -- inbounds lift skiing  will be a fallback option considered.

Additional Info:

My Touring Tips

My day touring ski pack contents:

My Driving Tips:

My Carpooling Tips:


Crystal Mountain Ski Area

  • USGS White River Park

    Green Trails Bumping Lake No. 271

    USGS Norse Peak

    Green Trails Mt Rainier East No. 270

    Green Trails Mount Rainier Wonderland No. 269SX
  • See full route/place details.
Required Equipment

Required Equipment

  • The Ten Essentials
  • Boots, skis/snowboard, poles
  • Climbing skins 
  • Avalanche shovel (metal blade)
  • Modern 3 antenna avalanche beacon
  • Avalanche probe
Trip Reports