So far this winter has been one for the record books and while I’ve been riding mostly metro-area terrain parks, it’s now getting to that point of the season where everything is prime and I start burning vacation days like it’s my job.
A clipper system blew through the northwest of Michigan’s lower peninsula last weekend, just in time for a scheduled family vacation to Crystal Mountain. The road conditions on Friday were fairly dreadful from about Clare onward: heavy snowfall and extreme winds led to blowing and drifting snow and dropped visibility to only a few hundred yards. We did make it there unscathed, around 3pm and the snow continued to fall throughout the night. While the family got situated I took my nephew out for some twilight laps.
The one good thing about such awful road conditions is that it keeps a lot of folks home. There was virtually nobody else on the slopes, and we were finding fresh tracks throughout the night until we wrapped it up around 7pm. Crystal has made some minor changes, but most notably for me they have been dropping ropes that are normally always up. In particular, they dropped the rope that usually separates Main Street from Basin Street/Interlochen Arts. These trails are separated by a short but steep ridge that is peppered with pine trees;
By removing the rope, it really opened up this ridge for some super fun drops in to powder landings — until the last run when I took a mellower approach than the ~10′ drop I’d been abusing all night and got majorly bucked by a buried stump or something. I could almost see it as I rode up on it as the ridge bottoms out in to Basin Street, but too late to make an adjustment. It’s been a while since I ragdolled like that…
By Saturday morning there was about 9″ of fresh, dry lake-effect snow, and the winds had died down a bit. I geared up first thing and hit some solo laps before breakfast, mostly ripping down the calf-deep pow on Buck and the two new runs on that side: Buckaroo and Buck Glades. Buck Glades was a nice zone that was always kinda-sorta accessible with some nasty traversing and booting it around Teddy’s, but can now be accessed directly from Buck/Buckaroo. The glades are tighest nearer the groomed terrain, and open up a little bit as you get further from the chair. It’s a small area that tracks out pretty quickly so get there early to enjoy it. Also from Buck, when they’re not running the open race clinic, you can jump the fence/rope in to Lower Gorge, which was another prime drop with a steep soft landing. After getting my share of the first tracks, I went back to get the rest of the family around 10am.
We spent a lot of the day on the North Face which usually is less crowded than the front side of the resort. Squalls were in and out all day, with the occasional whiteout, keeping the snow fresh. There was a sweet stump drop on skier’s right of Piper Pass, just had to carry some speed for a brief uphill, hard left through some trees and you’d be right on it.
The terrain parks…
Fortunately I don’t care if I ride park on a pow day. Due to all the snow (9″ or so) it took most of the day before the parks were fully open, so you would’ve had to wait until the afternoon and evening to really ride park. There were no bomb-hole landings and if you were up for night riding, the lips would have been in great shape, however not all of the features are well-lit at night.
- Basin Street in particular looks better than I have seen it in a long time, several lines of intermediate/advanced rail features including a waterfall pipe, a DFD pipe, a cannon/transfer, a pretty good sized battleship bar, a really long down rail, etc. While this park had a great variety of features, the more advanced rider may be disappointed because most of these features are still “ride-on”.
- Tuck’s always leaves something to be desired from my perspective. Personally I think this would be better just as a jump line: put small/medium jumps on one side, and bigger jumps on the other side. As it is, they have a few rail features and a flat-down box intermingled with the jumps. The jumps weren’t painted even on Sunday, and although I prefer wider jumps, these would’ve been fun if they had been painted. Without paint and on overcast days, they just ride sketchy (ok so “death trap” was an exaggeration!).
- The Giggles park had the usual butter box, a small tabletop jump, and an A-frame box.
I have a recurring gripe with Crystal about the flow of their parks, and this is the main reason why I say “Crystal is not the place to go if you’re a park rat.” I go there for family vacations, hit mostly glades, side hits, log jibs, etc., and dabble in the park only occasionally. This is not for lack of park, it’s due to bad logistics. The trails which host the parks at Crystal are not easily accessible, and putting 10 minutes in between your laps is a surefire way to kill any momentum or stoke that you might have.
- Basin Street is only accessible from the Crystal Clipper, which is the busiest chair at the resort, and requires dodging toddler missles and Denim Dad for about 1/2 mile of almost-flat, down Main Street.
- Tuck’s is only accessible from the Nastar chair (which is never running, unless there’s a Nastar race), otherwise you have to ride all the way to the other end of the resort and take the Buck chair up, and then go back around.
- Giggles is accessible from Clipper, Buck, or Nastar, so it’s the same issue, although it’s the baby park so it’s really not a huge concern.
Sunday we had to check out and with two dogs and an infant, time was scarce but I was able to wrangle a few more laps before leaving. It continued to snow throughout the morning, and the drive back home. For the short term expect more crazy cold temperatures, and probably another Clipper system to move through by the end of the week.