– Ben Martens


2013 Season Wrap-Up

I owe this fantastic ski season to my wonderful wife who sat at home baking a baby while I was off many weekends enjoying the snow! Next season will be remarkably different, but this year I got a season pass to Crystal Mountain and made great use of it. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a season pass there, and I absolutely loved it. It’s my favorite place to ski in Washington, and doing it with a pass made it even sweeter.

Highlights of the season include spending a couple days with Jay, getting new skis, and skiing with Tim and Chelsea. There are still a couple amazing runs that I can remember turn for turn. What a season! November and December saw heavy snows before it dried up through February with another return to blizzards in March.

This year ended up tied with 2006-07 for the biggest ski season I’ve ever had. I racked up over a quarter million vertical feet and spent 13 days on the slopes. I had hoped to get a few more days than that but some minor surgery left me on the sidelines for a few weeks in January and February. Luckily it coincided with the dry spell so I didn’t miss any big powder days.

I carried a GoPro camera around this season though I didn’t have it on my helmet all the time. I edited together a few of my favorite clips which you can see embedded below from YouTube.

March Powder

As we came back from our vacation last Wednesday, I checked the forecast and saw that it was dumping in the mountains. I immediately emailed work, told them I was going to extend my vacation by one more day and recruited a friend from work to come with me. (Safety first, ski and ride with a buddy on deep days!)

We headed to Crystal for the first big powder day since December and we weren’t disappointed! They had received about two feet in the last day and a half and roughly 8” overnight. We started by going towards High Campbell but it wasn’t open yet so instead of waiting in line, we took three untracked runs down the Forrest Queen lift. Then we headed over to check out Green Valley and poked around there until Northway opened. Once the Northway light turned green, we headed over to gate 5 and dropped into Paradise Bowl. That has probably been my favorite run all season, but Thursday was by far the best I’ve ever seen it. The snow was bottomless and untracked. My new skis were completely fantastic in the deep snow and I flew down to the bottom with snow bouncing up into my face. For our next run we clicked out of our gear and took the hike up to the top of Morning Glory bowl. Another run of fresh turns were a nice reward for the hike. Before we knew it, it was 2pm and we decided to call it a day. The GoPro was out for just about every run and if I do a season edit then I’m sure some of these runs will make it into the video.

It was easily the best day I’ve had since December and one of the best days I’ve had all season. Thanks to AndyM for coming along and sharing it with me! Looking at the forecast this might be the last big powder day of the season.

Jay’s Cliff

When Jay was out here, we were poking around in Morning Glory Bowl at Crystal. I haven’t spent much time back there and wasn’t a very good guide. We ended up on top of a cliff. I hiked out and came down the easy way but Jay decided to make his way down. Unfortunately he was facing the wrong way, decided to unclick from his skis to turn around, and … well… that’s where the video starts. Thanks to Jay for giving me the thumbs up to post this video. I originally held off because I feel a bit bad for doing nothing but laugh at him, especially since this was partially intentional. My fall the day before was quite a bit worse and was completely unintentional. And at the end of that one he collected my gear and brought it down to me. When he fell, I was already down the hill and just watched him hike back up. I’m such a good friend.

On the way home, Jay realized that he didn’t have his phone. Using my phone, we pulled up the “Find My iPhone” page and the GPS said it was sitting at the bottom of this cliff. Luckily it still had enough juice that he could erase it remotely. Maybe we’ll have to hike this area in the summer and see if we can find it but the odds seem pretty low.

Jay’s Visit

When I moved out to Seattle, Jay and I went from roommates to pen pals, but we still try to get together in person every year or two. A couple weekends ago, Jay flew out here for a few days.

The first two days were spent skiing at Crystal. Unfortunately the day before he got here, the weather got really warm and the snow melted all the way to the peaks at the resort. It then froze overnight leaving us with some really hard packed snow. We stuck to the north faces of the hills and found some stuff that was soft enough to keep us entertained, and of course it was nice to be riding ski lifts together again.

He got to witness the biggest fall I think I’ve ever had. Thought it might mean that Tyla will never let me ski again, I will recount it here. Powder Bowl is one of the steepest/longest slopes on the mountain and the tiny chairlift that gets you to the top is littered with expert only signs. That being said, I’ve skied it many times before and if I had to pick my single best run ever, it would probably be one I took on that slope. This time it didn’t go quite as planned. Once we got through a band of rocks and into the main slope, I somehow lost a ski, and got turned around. I ended up doing a backflip straight down the mountain. I later learned that as my feet went up in the air I kicked a ski right at Jay’s head. Luckily he saw it coming and was able to duck. I think I only flipped once, but it was so steep that I was now rapidly descending the hill on my back. I got rolled over to my front and thought “I finally get to practice a self-arrest!” I gripped my one remaining ski pole with both hands and jammed it into the snow. That was supposed to stop me, but the snow was so icy and the slope was so steep that it barely even slowed me down. That’s when I really started to get scared because I had no way of knowing if I was going to run into something, and even if I didn’t, the 3-4 foot drop to a cat track at the bottom would surely cause trouble. I gingerly tried to dig my boots into the snow. If you dig in too hard you’ll just start cartwheeling again. Luckily that previously melted snow was very smooth and I was able to bring myself to a stop. From way up above I heard Jay yell to ask if I was ok. Luckily for me, he was able to collect my skis and missing pole. I was carrying my GPS during the slide, so while writing this post, I dug out the dataset and did some math. My slide lasted 130 yards at a constant slope of 38 degrees and reached speeds around 25mph. Thankfully I escaped with nothing but a pounding heart and wet pants which I still claim are from snow that got in during the fall. Jay had a pretty good fall and slide the next day, but he had to climb back up to get his own gear since I’d already headed part way down the slope. Thankfully he was ok too. So aside from those two events, skiing was a lot of fun. We spent most of our time exploring back in Northway and Green Valley.

We met up with Tim and Chelsea for dinner, and then the next day we went shooting at the trap range. Jay bought a Remington 870 too but hasn’t been able to shoot it because of the temps and snow in Syracuse. We had fun breaking some clays and then stuffed our faces with Mod Pizza.

All in all it was as great extended weekend. Thanks to Jay for flying all the way out here to visit and thanks to Juliet and their kids for loaning him to us for the weekend!

Crystal With The Scherschel’s

Five years ago, Tim and Chelsea gave snowboarding a try. That didn’t really stick so this year they decided to give skiing a try. Tyla decided that skiing while pregnant wasn’t a great idea, but she still came along with us and hung out in the lodge. After a few laps on the bunny slope, Tim and Chelsea were ready for the Chinook lift and after lunch they advanced to Forest Queen. They did a great job and made huge improvements throughout the day. It was fun sharing lift rides with them and seeing them enjoy a sport that I love too. Hopefully they’ll head back out to the slopes again soon!

Crystal Trip Report

As I headed out the door at 6:30AM on Saturday, the sensors on top of Crystal Mountain were reporting 7 degrees. That’s about what it felt like all day. But the cold was outweighed by bluebird skies and incredible views stretch from Baker to St. Helens. This was my seventh day at Crystal this season but the first that I’ve been able to see Mt. Rainier.

I took the GoPro along with me and used it for a few runs. Unfortunately the second time I used it I had it pointed down to low and a lot of that footage is unusable, but I did edit together a couple clips. You’ll see the following scenes in this order:

1) The top of the Green Valley chair is a stunner on days like this. It lines you right up for a beautiful view of Rainier.
2) From the top of the gondola, I panned quickly across the horizon.
3) As I rode up the gondola, I spotted a little patch of fresh snow. (It hadn’t snowed since Tuesday night.) It required a short hike but I went for it and enjoyed it.
4) I spotted another patch from the Northway lift and that run was even better.

It was a good day for me to explore the Northway area because visibility was so good and there wasn’t a lot of fresh snow which meant it was less likely to get caught in a bad situation. It’s enormous and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. I challenged myself by finding fun stuff that I could see from the lift and then trying to get there. Terrain looks a lot different when you’re actually on the ground. At one point I realized I’d missed my mark and started seeing cliff signs to the left and right. Shortly after that I saw a wall of cliff signs ahead of me too. I knew the cliff band and it’s a solid 20-30 feet in most places. Uh oh. These are the thoughts that went through my head: “Am I going to be the idiot who has to call for rescue? I should pull out my phone and take a photo of this. No, Tyla would be mad if she saw the photo. But I’m just going to blog about it anyway. Skip the photo stupid and try to get out of this mess.” There were enough tracks in the area that I was able to pick my way through the cliff band without any real danger. It sure had my heart pumping though!

With this trip I’ve racked up enough vertical feet to rank 3rd on my list of 8 ski seasons. That’s pretty good considering it’s not even the middle of January yet!

Night Skiing

Last week I headed up to Snoqualmie with some co-workers for a little night skiing. The snow wasn’t anything spectacular, but the group was fun and they enjoyed monkeying around in front of my camera. The GoPro did pretty well at night as long as there wasn’t a bright light in the background. In those cases the foreground was way too dark, but that’s to be expected.

Crystal Trip Report

On Saturday I headed to Crystal for my 6th ski day of the season and my first day with the new skis. The parking lots were already pretty full when I rolled in at 8:15 for the 9:00 opening. That’s when I realized it was the first day of the ski schools. That’s usually the busiest weekend of the entire season. Visions of long lines floated through my head but never actually materialized. They started loading the lifts 20 minutes early which helped keep the base crowds down. I chose the gondola and after a couple laps on the Green Valley groomers to make sure the bindings were attached to the skis properly, I headed out to Northway. There wasn’t much fresh snow to really put the new skis to the test, but I did have a lot of fun with them. On fresh groomers, my old skis are marginally better. On anything off the groomers, my new skis are much better. In the really nasty big, icy moguls, these skis are too long to do much good, but then again, I’ve always been bad in those conditions so I’m not a great person to review them in that situation.

I spent most of the day hanging out on the Northway lift. Paradise Bowl provided a number of fun lines and I hiked out to Morning Glory Bowl a couple times. That has a lot fewer tracks because not is it quite hidden from anyone who isn’t looking for it, but you have to take off your skis and hike a few minutes to get there. There was a bit of fluffy snow back there and it got me very excited for the first time that I’ll have a real powder day with these skis.

All in all it was a good day to explore Northway, an area that I’ve only skied briefly in the past. There is an incredible amount of terrain, but it’s no joke. Twenty foot cliffs are marked with tiny little signs. They aren’t roped off because people actually enjoy hucking backflips off those cliffs. I say it was a good day to explore because without any fresh snow for a while, there were plenty of tracks to follow. It was clear where the main ski routes were and if there were no tracks then it was definitely a place that I didn’t want to go. I’ve got a few of the routes memorized now so that when that first powder day does come, I can hit some great runs without worrying about where I’m going to end up.

When I left, I was amazed at how many cars were in the lots and happy that I never waited more than 3 minutes for a lift all day. A common complaint about Crystal is that the lines are too long. I don’t know what those people are smoking or maybe they’re talking about the bunny slope. Either way, I don’t correct them. I just say, “Yep, it’s too busy, too flat, and it never snows." It’s their loss.

The first photo below is Paradise Bowl. There are two people just below the cliffs on the left but they are hard to make out in this small image. The second is Morning Glory Bowl. It was snowing lightly and there were no fresh boot tracks on the hike out there so I know that I was the only skier as far as you can see in this photo. Not too shabby for the busiest day of the year!

2013 Blizzard Cochise

This year our company rolled out a new benefit. If you don’t get the free gym membership, you can get $800 towards sporting equipment. When I read that line it took me about seven milliseconds to realize that I was getting some new skis! the only catch is that the purchase had to be made in 2013 and this is the worst time of the year to buy skis. Last year’s stuff is sold out and this year’s models are still full price. Oh well.

My last set of skis were the 2007 Rossignol Bandit B2’s 182cm. I bought them because they were so fat compared to my first set of skis that I bought out in Jersey. After a year or two I realized that they weren’t nearly fat enough for the type of snow we get out here. They were great skis and I’m keeping them around for hardpack groomer days, but I wanted something much wider with rocker technology.

After demoing skis at Crystal a couple weekends ago, I ended up deciding on the Blizzard Cochise. They felt incredible when I skied and they offered one of the longest versions of any brand: 193cm. I’m a huge guy so I need all the surface area I can get. My Bandits were 75mm at the waist of the ski directly under my boot. These Cochises are 108mm! After I skied on them during the demo day, I looked them up online and learned that they have received a couple Ski of the Year awards so I guess the reviews back up my limited test.

It turns out that many of the local ski stores don’t carry the Blizzard line because they’re not one of the bigger brands, but I was able to find it at which is based in Seattle. The order was placed on New Years Day and by Thursday morning, they were sitting on my doorstep along with Marker Griffon bindings. I drove straight over to Gerk’s and they had the bindings mounted on the skis by the end of the day!

The new skis felt super light to me, but it turns out that’s a bit of an illusion. One Cochise with binding came in at 7.6 pounds on my scale and one Bandit with binding was 7.1. But considering how much more size the new skis have, they are clearly less dense.

This leaves me with three sets of skis. The one on the far left was a used set that I picked up at a ski swap for pretty cheap. I sold those recently to help pay for the new skis. I’ll keep the Bandits around for use in early season when the snow hasn’t quite covered all the rocks.

Crystal Trip Report

On Saturday I headed to Crystal for my fifth day of skiing so far this season. My watch keeps tracks of how many runs I take in a day and I’ve already done more than the last three years! And what a season it has been so far. The photo below shows the top of the Northway lift earlier this week. They had to dig 9 feet down to make a path for the chair. The snow this month has been incredible!

I arrived in the parking lot at 8:15 for the 9:00 opening and I was amazed at how many people were already there. In true Crystal fashion, the enormous parking lot crowds apparently got lost between their cars and the slopes because I never saw big lines. The gondola line was short so I hopped in that and was at the top a little before 9 thanks to an early opening. There wasn’t any fresh snow, but I do love a good groomer so I made about 5 laps on Green Valley waiting for the crowds to show up. They never did arrive, but I noticed that the Northway lift had opened so I decided to explore there.

I discovered a couple ENORMOUS areas that I’ve never skied before and look forward to checking out more in the future. It occurred to me that these new areas I found to ski were bigger than the entire resorts that I used to ski in the Philly area. Crystal had also run the snow cat up part of Northway which is very rare but thankfully it smoothed out the huge moguls that form right near the bottom of the lift.

On my way out of Northway, I decided to attempt the long traverse back to base called I-5. I must have made a wrong turn at some point because I ended up down at LOT E. That was super convenient though because I had forgotten my snacks and was able to grab them from the roof of my car as I caught a shuttle back up to the lodge. The parking lots were completely full by this point (even lot F was filling up) but I still never saw a long line.

The light was starting decrease up top as the day went on so I called it quits around 1:30. It was a fun day for all the new areas I found to ski, but the conditions were nothing to write home about.