In eastern Pierce County, under the shadow of Mount Rainier, one of America’s most picturesque skiing areas has become a winter playground for residents of the Pacific Northwest – Crystal Mountain. While most view Crystal Mountain’s stunning slopes, showcasing the wildness of the Cascades, as a new discovery, the region oly orthohas been a destination for winter sports enthusiasts for 55 years. In an area once the site of prospectors and mining companies looking to make their fortune, today’s riches are found above the ground in the form of powdery snow and spectacular views. Each week, carloads of skiers and snowboarders flock to Crystal, but few know of this history of the breathtaking runs.

The dream of Crystal Mountain’s ski facilities started at the demise of the attempts to add chairlifts up at Mount Rainier’s Paradise. Skiing had been huge in Pierce County for decades, highlighted by the 1936 Olympic Ski Trials held on the slopes of Mount Rainier. Boosted by that popularity, ski enthusiasts in Tacoma hoped to have chairlifts built on the iconic mountain, but many issues blocked that from happening.

Crystal Mountain Resort
For 55 years, skiers and snowboarders have been racing down the slopes at Crystal. Photo credit: P. Morrissey

In 1949, the residents got together and eventually found that the region now home to the Crystal Mountain Resort would make for perfect runs, thanks to a high elevation of 7,012 feet. In 1958, a few years after presenting the proposal to the First Service, the Crystal Mountain Winter Sports Area was created. In 1962, thanks to funding from the public, the mountain officially opened its slopes.

The first three years of operation were great and the region’s reputation spread, bringing in the National Alpine Championships in 1965. However, over the next 20 years, the ski area didn’t grow as much as hoped. In 1988, Crystal Mountain attempted to boost its visibility by adding Washington’s first high-speed, detachable quad chairlift, but poor snow damped the mood and popularity. In 1997, Crystal Mountain was purchased by Boyne Resorts, a family-owned group who had loved the region for years and pumped more than $15 million into development.

Crystal Mountain
Looking out from Crystal Mountain, it is hard to image a more beautiful location for skiing and snowboarding. Photo credit: Matt Zimmerman

Since 1997, six new lifts have been added to Crystal Mountain, adding nearly 8,000 more vertical feet for snowboarders and skiers to enjoy. One of the highlights of the added lifts is the Mount Rainier Gondola, which was added in 2010. Running from the base to the summit, the Gondola helped bring more summer visitors to the region, helping Crystal Mountain become more than just a ski area. The gondola also cut the lift time in half, helping snow enthusiasts reach the summit in just 10 minutes.

Another highlight is found above the Mount Rainier Express lift, where visitors can access the incredibly stunning Summit House. Sitting at 6,872 feet above sea level, this warm and inviting building gives skiers a chance to fill up on food and drink while taking in unrivaled views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier. It is also the highest elevation restaurant in Washington State.

Jeff Bartlett of Enumclaw is one of the ever-growing converts to skiing at Crystal. It was here in the Cascades that he found the spirit of the region.

“I moved to Washington last year, and I learned to ski at Crystal Mountain,” said Jeff. “I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors in different regions of the U.S., but I really fell in love with Pacific Northwest. The summers are great, but the winters are spectacular. I live about 45 minutes from Crystal, and I think I had to shovel my driveway once last year while hundreds upon hundreds of inches of snow fell at the resort. Tough to beat that.”

Crystal Mountain Ski Area
The views and the fantastic snow have helped make Crystal Mountain one of the best places for snow fun in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Jeff Bartlett

“I’ve skied at Crystal this year and had great days,” continued Jeff. “We stuck to groomed runs and just enjoyed making smooth turns in the December sunshine. Over the years, I’ve learned to never waste a sunny day, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Their new snowmaking equipment has worked wonders down low where coverage was previously thin after the recent rains.”

Today, Crystal Mountain is one of the premiere destinations for West Coast skiing and snowboarding. Averaging an annual snowfall of 486 inches, the skiing here is sought after and spectacular. In 2015, the Pacific Northwest saw the driest winter on record, with Crystal seeing just 234 inches of snow. To make sure that low snowpacks don’t stop skiers, Crystal Mountain purchased three snow guns, helping to maintain the lower elevation snowpack, no matter the weather outside. Sporting 11 lifts, Crystal Mountain can allow for 19,588 people an hour – or 326 people a minute – to be moved up the hill. But don’t worry about crowds, the sprawling slopes cover 2,600 acres on its 57 trails, giving skiers of all abilities a chance to descend up to 3,100 feet.

Crystal has come a long way since it was the second option for a ski area around Rainier. Today, it is hard to imagine life without this ski area and mountain resort, as the panoramic vista is one of the most iconic views in Washington State. The history of Crystal Mountain may have started slow, but today, the runs are embraced by skiers from all over the country. The future of Crystal is like the constant moving chairlifts on a beautiful winter weekend – heading to amazing adventures.

Crystal Mountain Resort is located at 33914 Crystal Mountain Boulevard in Enumclaw. For more information, visit the Crystal Mountain website or call 360-663-2265.