Washington State’s Crystal Mountain has been one of the premier ski resorts in the country since opening in 1962. You can come for the day, or stay for the night. Snowshoeing here can be rugged and isolated, or socially serene; the choice is yours. The beauty of a snowshoe trip to Crystal Mountain is that you have all the creature comforts at your disposal, while still being able to get away from it all for as long as you’d like.
With an average annual snowfall of 486 inches – that’s in excess of 40 feet! – Crystal Mountain Resort sits on 2,600 pristine acres in the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park. Most of the visitors come from the Puget Sound area where Tacoma is but a 90-minute drive and Seattle, roughly 105 minutes.
If you’re spending the night at the resort, which is highly recommended, snowshoeing begins the moment you step outside of your hotel room; more about accommodations later. The snowshoeing options are plentiful and available to any skill level. Though, if you can walk, you can certainly snowshoe, goes the adage. If snowshoeing on your own, you’ll find lots of trails to the left of the main resort just past the beginner’s ski area. Follow the steep grade that veers to the left, and you’ll find plenty of marked and unmarked trails to explore.
Another wonderful snowshoeing option is the Saturday afternoon/evening guided snowshoe tours. Offered every Saturday from about Christmastime through mid-April, these informative alpine wilderness snowshoe tours have been very popular since they began five years ago. There are two options available: When the weather is decent, the Gondola Tour is the route, but if it’s too windy, the alternate South Back route is the guide’s choice.
Snowshoers begin the 2 1/2-hour tour by taking a scenic ride on the Mt. Rainier Gondola to the summit of Crystal Mountain at 6,872 feet. Once at the summit, take in the beauty of the Cascade mountain range with 14,410-foot Mount Rainier, in all its stunning beauty, sitting right before you, and only seven miles away. After everyone has strapped on their snowshoes, the group heads north along the ridgeline. Hiking out past Green Valley and Snorting Elk into Northway, you’ll stop to hydrate and fuel up with a snack. It’s suggested that you bring a libation or other beverage along with snacks if you so desire. A small market right at the resort offers plenty of options that fit into a backpack.
The group then departs Northway, heading back up the ridge to the gondola, and the return trip to the base area lodge. If the alternate South Back route is taken, participants will ride up the Quicksilver chairlift to the entrance of the South Back. Entering the alpine forest, it’s a pleasant and scenic walk towards Lower Henskin Lake. While taking a break and enjoying the beautiful views of the surrounding peaks, Crystal Mountain snowshoe guide Trevor Nicely shared that “We are standing on about 6-7 feet of snow! Also, from the main lodge, which is 4,400 feet of elevation, we have gained nearly a thousand feet of elevation.”
Gwen Bowman from Seattle began snowshoeing in January. “I absolutely love the sport so much that I’ve been snowshoeing every weekend since. “I like hiking in the summer and this is a nice alternative during winter months.”
Once the group hikes out of the alpine forest and back to civilization, a scrumptious celebratory dinner awaits. The meal includes an incredible cheese fondue dinner with a selection of vegetables, salad, and a tasty homemade dessert. Though alcoholic beverages are not included in the $58 fee, they are available for purchase. If you bring your own snowshoes, the cost of the snowshoe tour and dinner is $38.
After an enjoyable day of snowshoeing, Crystal Mountain has several dining and nightlife options.
Alpine Inn Restaurant
Located near the main lodge adjacent to parking lot A, the Alpine Inn is tucked into the woods just across the foot bridge. Serving breakfast and dinner daily, the Alpine Inn offers excellent cuisine and a wide selection of fine wines and complimentary views of the pristine mountains.
If a day of snowshoeing didn’t get your juices flowing, then stop off at the Snorting Elk Cellar. This Bavarian-style Ratskeller provides a cozy atmosphere to swap stories about your great day on the mountain. Snuggle up next to the roaring fire and enjoy wonderful food from the Snorting Elk Deli, which is complemented with full cocktail service and a wide assortment of microbrews and wines. Live music is also on tap most Friday and Saturday nights.
Summit House Restaurant
Washington’s highest elevation restaurant, perched at 6,872 feet, serves International-Northwest cuisine in an elegant alpine setting with an unbelievable view that is both unique and breathtaking. Take the gondola from the main lodge to enjoy this unforgettable experience.
There are several other dining and deli options available throughout the property, and summaries of each can be found on the Crystal Mountain Resort web site. In addition, there is an RV park onsite along with three quality lodging options, including the Alpine Inn, Village Inn, and Quicksilver Lodge. General Manager Dee Patterson shared the Crystal Mountain guarantee: “We specialize in all-inclusive corporate and social events bringing together comfortable slope-side lodging, casual fine dining, intimate gathering areas for meetings and other functions, and a multitude of outdoor activities to keep you and your group engaged for days.”
To plan your Crystal Mountain getaway, visit http://crystalmountainresort.com/.