Trip Report: Crystal Mountain, MI – January 24-26, 2014

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.

chairlift selfie - Crystal Clipper lift, 1/24/2014

My nephew described his first drop in to powder as “the best feeling in the world”

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;

Dropped ropes

One of several drop zones with wide-open powder landings, between Main Street and Basin Street

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 North Face chair, around 3pm - January 25, 2014

The North Face chair, around 3pm – January 25, 2014

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.


9 thoughts on “Trip Report: Crystal Mountain, MI – January 24-26, 2014

  1. I would like to go ahead and comment on this. I’m glad you had a good trip of course but i do have some comments and concerns. We apologize that your park experience wasn’t up to par with what you might have expected. If we could explain ourselves, it could clear some issues up that you may have had. I work on the park crew at Crystal Mtn and everyday for the passed two weeks we have been shoveling off features from 9am untill 2 or 4pm with no breaks because of these snow storms. Then have a lunch break and basically go right back to shoveling because it is still dumping snow. I’m not sure you realize how long it takes for one person to shovel three full parks after a night of 12in of snow… It’s a process. Basin street in “blanketed” in snow untill noon because it takes one person 3 hours to clear snow in one park before we move on to the next one. I would love for it to magically blow away but sadly it doesnt. As for the “unpainted lips” that were mentioned as “death traps”, they get painted with a nice blue dye everyday and continue to get raked. When its dumping snow, of course they’re going to get covered again and again but to say they were never visable? That may be bit dramatic.. Also, you say the jumps in Tucks park were “oddly placed” as well? The only one even close to oddly placed is the last jump which is shifted to slightly point left to play into the fall line of the hill, to make that even on both the left and right if that knuckle was straight would take 4x the amount of snow on the left than on the right, which is hard to create. Can you explain to me how you figure that they are all oddly placed, along the the jibs in tucks that are oddly placed as well? I guess I don’t clearly understand that comment. This year is a great year for park and I’m sorry you feel as if our park is “not the place to go” every year, but I, personally, have had nothing but good comments about the park from people coming from all over. Sure, a few questions about closed jumps on slow days but thats obviously going to happen once in awhile, but other than that it’s been a great year. Just some concerns and comments to ponder, but once again it’s good to hear you had a mostly enjoyable trip!

    • Kenny, the fact you came to comment here is huge and really indicitive of why I like crystal, the people who work there really care and take pride in what they do.
      I will give you my perspective on how the rail features are odd and what I and I believe other progressive riders would like to see done different.
      I think first, you have to look at the obsticle and think, how many ways can this be hit. In the case of the battleship. A beginner is going to want to hit it straight on. An advanced rider might want to gap from the lip or side and use it like a flat down. Maybe use the center section like a spine to air over, hand plant, air and land on the down.
      By elevating it more like you might a rainbow rail, it makes a feature that has basically has one possibility have dozens.
      In the case of the waterfall I think the lip should be set no higher than the lowest section if you drew an imaginary line parallel with the grade of the hill. That means, not a ride on feature. If youre still riding on rails, you have other stuff to learn before hitting a waterfall.
      Explore the possibilities of how a feature can be used. If its a ride on, a serious rider will see it as a wasted resource and a disapointment.
      Also keep it simple. Be creative with the snow around the rail, but you don’t need to combo features like a video game. The rail part is best left reasonably simple so you can do tricks on to and off of them.
      I think it is important to leave the ride ons to the 3 easiest features in the park then everything else should be elevated at least 8″ and for good reason. When you have to bring your knees up, you land in a better balance position. People get hurt when they are standing tall on rails. If they need to ride on, they are not ready and a liability risk to the resort.
      I want to give you props for commenting here and taking pride in what you do. I know fighting with the management over what you are allowed to do is frustrating and often an uphill battle.
      Snowboarding is fundimentally a creative sport. its about how you use your environment in a creative and expressive way. The best snowboarders are the ones that surprize you and hit something in a different and unexpected way and inspire you. When you limit the possibilities, people will complain.
      If it were me, I’d be trying to set features in glades and side hits on the sweeping hills, incorporate hips to redirect and natural terrain as much as possible.
      It would really set the park apart from others.

    • Hey Kenny — thanks for commenting. I have been riding at Crystal Mountain now for probably 20 years, so I have seen ups and downs, and I want to mention that the parks have been improving the last few years. I also want to recognize that the staff and service at Crystal has always been awesome — that you took the time to leave a thoughtful comment here is just proof that you take pride in the work you do, which I think has always set Crystal apart from some other hills.

      I realize that I kind of mailed in my comments on the park, so I have revised the review above to hopefully be more detailed, and to explain where I’m coming from.

      I realize it was a powder day and that presents some unique challenges, especially if the resort is running under-staffed due to inclement weather. But if the park crew really consists of “one person”, then I think that would be a big problem (I did see at least two people out there maintaining stuff, though). Again, I understand it takes time especially when there is that much snow, so I made that comment not really as a knock on the park or the crew, but just as an observation that I couldn’t really take many park laps because the parks were pretty much closed the entire trip.

      The only thing I’m not really backing down on is the jumps: Even on Sunday — the day after the storm — there was no visible paint on any of the lips or landings. There was maybe an inch of snow that fell overnight, so it’s not like they were covered in a foot of pow or something. OK so “death trap” was a bit of an exaggeration: Crystal builds relatively low risk jumps (and I am very glad they build them still — there were a few years in the mid-2000′s where they refused to build ANY jumps at all) and even in bad conditions if you’re a competent rider or skier you’re not going to get broke off on them. I would prefer them to be wider, but that’s not a deal breaker. Also, personally I’d like to see Tuck’s set up as just a jump park, with small/medium on one side and larger ones opposite. Sprinkling rails/boxes in between jumps works when you have a park that’s really big, but Tuck’s is tiny, (and this is just my opinion/criticism based on what I would personally enjoy riding) so I just think this would be a better use of the limited real estate.

      • I totally see where you are coming from, in a guests point of view. And I agree with you on several of your comments, but the fact of the matter is, Tucks is a very poor run to put terrain on in general, the grade of the hill dies off in an awkward angle preventing the desired width of landings that we so desire. Also to take length into perspective we had to set tucks up for the Michigan Monster Series. This is a slope style competition series that has to incorporate rails as well as jumps in order to show a riders versatility. As a park crew employee at crystal we strive to make things bigger and better( though many times our ideas are shot down by corporate) and in order to push the jumps as well as the sport we especially wanted the third table to be bigger. Now in order to compensate for the odd grade of the hill we had to tilt the 3rd table a couple degree’s to the left in order to have it as big as we wanted. This is why or jump line is off set. I assure you that you are not the only one whose having/had these thoughts about are terrain park, but try and step back and look at both sides of the argument. Of course we/I want bigger better things but there are a multitude of reasons as to why things are the way they are. We are simply trying to make something out of little to nothing, and I’d like to think we do a decent job at it. We will never be cannonsburg, marquette mountain due to the fact that we are a family resort. Were just trying to get the best of both sides of skiing and find a happy medium.
        Park Crew/Slope style compeditor

        • Thanks Reese!

          >> Tucks is a very poor run to put terrain on in general, the grade of the hill dies off in an awkward angle preventing the desired width of landings that we so desire.

          Agreed. I understand the desire to keep it on the front side of the resort for visibility when hosting competitions, but it’s an awful run for a park. I understand that you’re basically making the most of a bad situation with regards to the terrain but man, it would be awesome to put a slopestyle run on Ridge. A lot more room, better more consistent grade, etc.

          I also get that management might shoot down a lot of your ideas. Again I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to knock the crew or the (often thankless) work that you guys do; you’re doing as much as you can with what you’ve got to work with.

          I know CM will never be a Cannonsburg and that’s perfectly OK with me. I go there *because* it’s a family resort, and has a good variety of fun terrain. And I see your side of this, too. But to try and remain unbiased, I kinda do have to compare parks to one another even if the resorts have very different ideas/missions about what their parks should become. I mean if you were going anywhere in MI to ride park, and all you wanted to do was ride park, let’s be honest, Crystal would not be in the top 5. As an “overall” resort, Crystal is one of my favorites. What it lacks in some areas, it more than makes up for in others, thanks to dedicated employees in all areas of their operations (I’ve honestly never met someone at CM who wasn’t helpful, friendly, etc.)

  2. David and PeopleSkate, I appreciate the respect and how you changed the post, that shows you you guys care about our opinions and know we’re trying to make things better. As for all the ride on features, I would love to make most everything urban but alot of that gets shot down by corporate because were a “family resort” like Reese pointed out. They seem to think its easier to have mostly ride on features and some stuff they are correct of course but I do completely understand where you guys are coming from with the diff setups and more urban, its just hard to get them to allow more things to be set like that but hopefully we are working our way towards that more in the coming future for sure! I do, however, happen to use the battleship as a flat down by hoping to the top like you stated and its a great idea. I fully agree with your statement of people land better onto rails when they have to hop on and bring their knees up, you land with more balance and in a better position than straight legs but once again its just hard to compensate for good to beginner riders and they expect that in all 3 parks and its hard to argue :/ We only get those 3 hills to set park on so we really try to get all the features out and set so its hard to make Tucks just a jump run like you said, David. Again we try to push for different runs with better grades and terrain to set on but it doesnt usually work as you can tell. So i totally respect your comment about all jumps and different sizes, we have pitched a few new ideas so maybe we will be able to try them out in the near future. It took us a looong time just to get the OK to build jumps again so we are trying to keep them within a respectable range so we can keep them.
    With that being said, there are 4 of us on the park crew and we do care about our job and what people think, and its hard to please everyone but we really try and make the best out of what we have and the time we are alloted to build in the parks. I’m glad you both respected my comment and had great things to say instead of a big fight starting where it wasnt needed. Its nice to have these opinions from you guys and we will deffinitely take them into account and try and incorporate them into our parks for the seasons to come! Thanks to both David and PeopleSkate

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