Feb 23 2000

One more day of skiing, this time with Annie and Katarina. I met Cheryl and the girls at 8:20, after leaving the hospital following 24 hours of call.

By 10 AM, we were in the parking lot at Crystal. changing our clothes and trying to make sense of the devastation covering the Suburban's back two seats. No one cares about that car anymore. We'd driven it back and forth to Whistler the week before, and little reminders of that trip still peppered the landscape: a portable CD player and my father's brown gloves in the front seat; Cheryl's neck pillow and Annie's fleece blanket in the middle, and various food containers in the rear. Piled on that were Cody's papers from the day he had to use the car a week ago, and finally, two snowboards, a ski container, three gym bags filled with winter clothes, three helmets with goggles, several pairs of children's gloves, and my boot bag. I commandeered the rear seat, sent the two girls to the middle, and we got to work getting ready to ski/ride. Katarina and Annie both determined they were "done", got out, and started to play in the snow. By the time I emerged, corralled them, and brought out the sliding equipment, I had to spend another five minutes tying up Annie's boots, finding Kat's second mitten, and generally convincing them that, no, the shuttle bus wouldn't stop in our lot (it didn't), and even if it did, we'd get to the base faster going forward rather than back 200 yds to the lonely shuttle stop mired in the middle of the soccer-field-sized parking lot covered with 3 inches of fresh wet snow on top of 6 inches of ice and frozen mud.

Luckily both girls love to snowboard, have high energy levels, and thus are impervious to cold, and have adventurous spirits. So herding them through the day was a simple matter of pointing the way, pushing them on the flats, and waiting when they fell. They needed no encouragement, no tears dried, and no threats or recriminations for going too slow. They did find the Alpine vastness of Crystal "boring", compared to Snoqualmie, where they spent each of the last four Sundays with Cheryl and their lessons. Snoqualmie is basically an 800 foot high ridge with lifts and trails strung out for miles along the freeway below. Plenty of jumps and bumps and trees to occupy them, and they don't mind the crowds or short runs or long lift lines or slow lifts. Crystal looks like a regular Western ski mountain, with steep terrain, gullies, open bowls and tree runs, and a few groomed slopes meandering among two high speed six seat lifts, and one quad. Five or six old chug-chug chair lifts still remain, filling in the gaps and smoothing out the crowds. But Crystal is a back-country, bad-weather skier's mountain, best enjoyed for its nooks and crannies, not its jam-packed tourist slopes.

Even so, Annie and Katarina finally found some places to call their own. Halfway down the Quicksilver lift, Crystal had gouged out a half-pipe. Built mainly for snowboarders, the sides of the pipe reach a ninety degree angle at their tops. The idea is to swoop up a sidehill, slowly losing speed, until your board clears the edge, at which point you leap into the air, turn down, and flip the front of your board back into the bowl of the pipe, heading for the opposite side, repeat and float back down again. A good boarder will get the tail of the board all the way out of the pipe; a great rider can do 540s, or even back 540s, at the top of each lip. Annie and Kat, however, are only nine, and just learning. It was all they could do to ride from one side to the other, coming to a nearly full stop and turning back down the sidehill. No acrobatics for them yet. But they whooped and hollered just as if they were spring-loaded jumpers, and got enough visceral thrill to keep coming back for more.

Off the top of Quicksilver, I showed them Boondoggle, ostensibly a black-diamond run (used to be a blue, but I think they want to keep people out of the avalanche risk from the out-of-bounds area above the trail. Boondoggle is one of the few easier runs at Crystal which is not groomed. It starts out through the trees on a nearly flat slope, and opens into a short narrow, gentle open slope, with a rocky ridge up to the right. Some open trees on either side guard an even shorter, but much steeper section which opens up into a gentle but mogully run-out, which the girls had to heel slide (well, Annie did; Kat went off and traversed thru the trees, falling down each time she went thru this section), spilling into a long and winding cat track back to the lift base. It's north facing, and protected by the trees and ridge above, so the snow is invariably soft and forgiving. It's away from the crowds (no high speed lift serves it), and its isolation provides a sense of adventure, which the girls immediately sensed and embraced. I think they liked to variety of terrain packed into such a short space, giving them a sense of mastery, without the worry of others either slower or faster getting in their way.

I waited for them to tell me they were done. It seemed obvious when Katerina came to a complete halt on the flats of the bottom of the hill, and wouldn't go any farther, falling over and remaining motionless for a minute or more. But when I asked, "Ready to go home?", up she popped, back on the lift, for another go or two. Only the advent of heavy wet snow in our face on the lift forced them to finally call it quits. They were quite relieved when I offered to drive the car up to the loading area, giving them time to sneak into the small food store and buy some gross tasting snacks for the trip back home. While they didn't actually fall asleep on the ride back, neither did pester me with "Are we there yet?", or little spats over territory. In fact, they liked it so much, we went back two days later and did it all over again.