Lift Profile: Northway at Crystal Mountain, WA

Crystal Mountain made headlines in 2007 when it decided to serve its largest-ever expansion with a brand new, $3 million fixed-grip double chair.  For perspective, 1985 was the last time a new double as long as Northway was built.

The Northway pod at Crystal is as big as most ski resorts.
The Northway pod at Crystal is as big as most ski resorts.

The Northway expansion added lift service to 1,000 acres of advanced tree skiing and bowls, an area bigger than most US ski areas.  “Northback,” as it was known had been open for years but required an epic traverse or bus ride back to the base area.  John Kircher of Boyne Resorts decided to build a lift but keep its capacity and speed low.  Only a handful of trails were cut in the Northway pod with no grading or grooming.  The result is awesome powder skiing with virtually no crowds.  There isn’t even a maze at the bottom of the lift.

The base terminal was built by helicopter and has no electricity.
The base terminal was built by helicopter and has no electricity.
All 19 towers were delivered by a K-Max helicopter.
All 19 towers were delivered by a K-Max helicopter.

The Doppelmayr CTEC double moves only 1,200 skiers per hour (Crystal’s workhorse six-packs move 3,600.)  Because it services exclusively advanced terrain, Crystal can get away spinning Northway at a quick 550 feet a minute.  That means 1,843 vertical feet in less than 10 minutes.  The bottom of the chair is located in the middle of nowhere with no road access or electricity.  With the exception of the top terminal, the entire lift was built with a spider excavator and helicopter.  As you crest the first ridge after boarding Northway, you realize how long it is.  At 5,422 feet, there are plenty of longer lifts out there but few that access such varied terrain.  Only once you reach the top do you feel like you are back at a ski area.

Northway is very long but surprisingly quick.
Northway is very long but surprisingly quick.

Unfortunately due to lack of snow Northway only open a few days this year.  The bottom is at low elevation with no snowmaking.  Crystal plans to build a snowmaking system but it may never reach Northway (right now Crystal has a single snow gun!)  Since the Northway addition, Crystal has also added a base-to-summit 8-passenger gondola and two new fixed-grips.  Altogether Boyne has built seven new lifts including four detachables since they bought Crystal in 1997.  Crystal probably has the newest lift fleet of any major resort in the country.  Not to mention awesome skiing in a good year.

400HP top drive.
400HP Northway top drive terminal.

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