$5 million lift
New Crystal Mt. gondola cuts travel time to top
By CARY ORDWAY

One of Washington's premiere ski and snowboard areas has made a big improvement – the addition of a new $5.5 million gondola that now will make it possible for Crystal Mountain's patrons to zoom to the top of the mountain in just under 10 minutes.

Up until early January 2011, the trip to the top – and to some of the most majestic views at any Northwest ski area – took two different lifts, both of them chairlifts where skiers are unprotected from the elements. Now skiers and snowboarders can ride to the top in the comfort of an enclosed cabin, staying warm until they hit the slopes at the top.

In addition to making the ski and snowboard experience better, the new Mt. Rainier Gondola offers the general non-skiing public a chance to get up and down the mountain in comfort. The views of Mt. Rainier at the top are incredible and there is even a gourmet restaurant at the top – the Summit House. Gondola riders will be able to ride up to have a meal and then ride back down to the base.

During summer season, the gondola will make it easy for visitors to get to the top where they can go hiking in some of the most scenic wilderness in Washington state. Scenic roundtrip winter gondola tickets will be $17.

The new gondola cabins each hold eight passengers and take visitors to an altitude of 6,856 feet, with a vertical rise of 2,456 feet. The lift will carry 600 people per hour and a total of 900 when additional cabins are added.

The gondola will allow the mountain to open earlier and stay open later with skiing in Green Valley, according to resort operators. It also will serve as a backup for the high-speed Rainier Express when it is unable to operate.

The Summit House is open for breakfast and lunch each day (adding dinner on Saturday) and visitors – whether on skis or on foot -- will be able to be served year around. Visitors will be able to watch the sun set while they stop by the Summit House for happy hour or dinner. The Summit House itself is expanding in 2011, adding a full bar and additional seating.

For summer visitors, Crystal also plans to add a zip line and mountain biking in the near future, depending on how quickly the resort can get approval from the U.S. Forest Service.

With its convenient location southeast of the Seattle metropolitan area, Crystal Mountain has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Washington's finest ski areas with excellent terrain for all skill levels of skiers and boarders. Uniquely, the resort offers ski-in, ski-out lodging similar to destination ski resorts – the only Washington ski area to do so.

There are three distinctive hotels at the Crystal Mountain base – the Alpine Inn offers ski-in accessibility and is quite close to the Mt. Rainier Gondola. There also is the family-friendly Quicksilver Lodge and the Village Inn.

Another option if you're looking for more elaborate accommodations is Crystal Mountain Lodging Suites, which offers the best ski-in location on the mountain where you can ski down the mountain right to your condo. There are two locations, both close to the chairlifts and gondola. There are fireplaces, fully equipped kitchens, balconies, one or two bedrooms, a heated swimming pool, free wi-fi and satellite television.

Another option is Alta Crystal Resort which offers chalet suites that are located in the deep forest and just a 15-minute ride to the mountain. These accommodations are newly renovated and offer fireplaces, kitchens, satellite television, wireless internet and a heated pool and hot tub.

Further from the mountain down at Greenwater there are houses and cabins for rent through Sunspot Vacation rentals. These are about a 25-minute drive from the mountain but offer up to five bedrooms in each home as well as numerous vacation rental resort-style amenities.

For more information on Crystal Mountain Resort and area accommodations, please go to www.crystalmountainresort.com or phone 1-888-754-6199.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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