Crystal Mountain shines in early opening

Snow was melting on the tips of Shelley Callaghan’s ski boots as she laughed her way through lunch Wednesday afternoon.

It’s easy for snow addicts to laugh when the long-awaited ski season starts a few weeks early.

Callaghan and her friend, Susanne Pruett, grinned as they talked about their first turns of the brand-new – and very early – ski season.

“It was unexpectedly great,” Callaghan said.

“There was good snow coverage, not too many rocks,” Pruett chimed in. “But we’ve just been talking about getting into better skiing shape.”

Both Seattle women broke out laughing.

Crystal Mountain was in pretty good skiing and snowboarding shape Wednesday, as 6 inches of fluffy new snow glowed under sunny skies and the resort enjoyed one of its earliest opening days in two decades.

This is supposed to be an El Niño winter, which can starve ski areas of snow, but things were looking great on Crystal Mountain.

“We’ve got a good solid base of snow started, and some light stuff right on top of it,” said Tiana Enger, Crystal Mountain spokeswoman. “This is our fifth-earliest opening day in two decades.”

Ski areas pray every year for enough snow to open by Thanksgiving, and Crystal’s wishes came true 15 days ahead of target.

The long Thanksgiving weekend is one of the biggest for ski areas if they are open.

Crystal didn’t open until Dec. 13 last year, and the lift wheels didn’t start turning until Dec. 1 in 2007.

“Usually, we’re doing back flips if we open a day or two before Thanksgiving,” Enger said Wednesday. “Today, we’re doing double back flips.”

Andrew Grimes, 16, and his friends from Gig Harbor rousted themselves out of bed and left for Crystal Mountain at 6:30 a.m.

“We had Veterans Day off of school,” Grimes said. “And the snow is pretty good.”

Some runs had the odd rock or bare patch showing through the snow, but that’s expected early in the season, Grimes said.

Crystal reported 24 inches of snow at the base area and 30 inches on the summit Wednesday morning. The Discovery, Chinook Express, Quicksilver and Forest Queen chairlifts were operating.

The resort will fire up the Rainier Express and Green Valley lifts this morning, Enger said.

“It’s pretty sweet to be skiing and snowboarding so early in the season,” said Jeff Newton, 16, who was part of Grimes’ crew.

More snow is on its way next week, Enger said.

As the afternoon slid by – and Crystal’s parking lots filled up – clouds pushed against the steep slopes and snow showers drifted onto happy skiers and boarders.

Mike Shelton of Maple Valley was one of them.

“I already had the day off, and I got the e-mail from Crystal saying that they were opening – and I knew this is what I was going to do,” Shelton said.

“I got a season pass this year and, hopefully, I’ll be up here at least twice a week. I have a lot of vacation time saved up.”

Pruett and Callaghan didn’t stay in the lodge very long after lunch.

Both women had kids to find on the slopes – and all that beautiful white stuff was all over the place just outside.

They were still laughing as they walked outside and snapped into their skis.

Chester Allen: 360-754-4226