I do not ski, snowboard or snowmobile. I do not like heights either. In fact, you know those three steps on a step ladder? Just picture me trying to hang some ornaments on a tree outside, scared to death on the second step that I might just fall and hurt myself — yes, it is that bad.
So when the idea of riding the gondola up to the top of Crystal Mountain came about, I hesitated a bit. However, I may now be the biggest advocate for this experience in the world, or perhaps just the state of Washington. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Summit House Bistro at the top of Crystal Mountain.
Since Valentine’s Day is literally around the corner, I would suggest making a reservation now, if one is still available. If not, absolutely any day in my book would be just as good and equally as romantic. The adventure begins with a beautifully scenic and winding drive on state Route 410 up to the mountain. Whenever you pass by towering pines, rushing rivers and hidden sparkling waterfalls, the time seems to fly by.
Upon arriving at the base of Crystal Mountain, there is an array of parking but the earlier you get there, the better for the prime spots. Note to the divas out there: this is a mountain and there is snow and ice so leave those new sexy boots at home and bring out the snow boots or some really sensible footgear. This is snow country so there is no need to dress to impress; here, puffy is in.
Tickets for the gondola can be purchased at the ticket counter and you will receive a plastic card in return which can also be re-loaded for future passes. Costs for adults (ages 18–69) is $17 per ticket, youth (11-17) is $15, senior (70 and older) is $10 and children (0-10) is only $8. To some this may sound a little spendy but let me tell you, it is worth every single penny. Tickets are taken to the gondola area and while you wait in line, you will be honored by the witty and charismatic presence of the attendants. Humor is always appreciated when I know I will be elevated in a small container with no control to 6,872 feet above the ground. I mean it’s really not any different than a step ladder, right?
You do have to be fairly quick on your feet as the gondola arrives and rotates slowly, not stopping. Once settled in, the trip up the mountain begins. My fears disappeared quicker than my first martini on a Friday night. I was literally in awe of the beauty that surrounded me. The air was crisp, clean and cold. The sun sparkled off the snow and those towering pines soon looked like tiny seedlings. The term ‘pure as the white driven snow’ came to life before my eyes as I stared at the drifts and small paths that had just been etched out by a passing skier. There truly are not enough synonyms in the dictionary to describe “beautiful” which is what it was.
The ride itself takes a little more than 10 minutes and I truly wished it could have lasted longer. But once at the top, there is no time to pause and reflect -- out you must go. The view at the top made me thankful for where I live. Every snowy mountain and range could be seen with the 360-degree view and we were literally only 12 miles away from our fabulous Mount Rainier. The sky was the bluest of blue and it truly feels like you could reach out and touch the sun. Awestruck!
The Summit House Bistro is only a few steps from the gondola and a cool perk is there are picnic tables set up outside the bistro with a walk-up window where a cup of chili or soup or maybe a bacon-wrapped hot dog can be purchased. Just want to enjoy the view and a brew? Wine and beer are also available at the window for your enjoyment. Be watchful of the camp robber birds which are way too cute but can land on your head at any minute to wait for a little scrap to eat.
The interior has a cozy lodge feel and high beamed ceilings are adorned with elk antler chandeliers. There is an enormous jutting rock fireplace for that much-needed warmth from the outside cold. There is seating for about 100 people and by the time we left, that’s just how many were in the restaurant. The servers were laid-back and fun, yet professional and we loved our little Ashley — a bundle of smiles that girl was! And so began the next step of our adventure with a glass of wine and an ice cold IPA.
The lunch menu was simple but elegant. I had my heart set on the grilled citrus wild Alaskan salmon sandwich but chose the butternut squash ravioli with a gorgonzola cream sauce at the suggestion of Ashley. My partner in crime, D.P., chose the lamb burger which is stuffed with feta and topped with crispy onions, tzatziki sauce on garlic naan bread.
I was already in heaven at the top of the mountain until I took my first bite of ravioli. I’m not a scientist or a priest but I think there may just be two heavens. The squash was perfectly sweetened and buttery smooth and was well-complemented with the tangy and savory cheese sauce. It was magic in a dish, period.
Now, I hear there are lambs in heaven and the burger was proof. I am not an aficionado of burgers but I do love to have one anywhere I possibly can. This lamb burger was the most enticing of all the burgers, hands down. It was juicy, a perfectly pink medium rare and as about as fresh as they come. Although I was thoroughly engaged in my dish, I could swear D.P.’s burger was making alluring noises at me to tempt me into another tantalizingly delightful bite. Both dishes were truly stimulating to the senses and enhanced even more by the warmth of the wine.
As all good things must come to an end. We slowly sauntered out, enjoyed the view some more, took a few pictures, and then lazily slid into the awaiting gondola. We actually got lucky as we had it to ourselves this time — no details provided other than the crazy antics we tend to do when we are alone and have no one else to amuse us. Again, the ride could have lasted longer but it was time to head back to the big city and get on with life as we know it.
Again, this was an amazing experience that I highly recommend to couples or just two best friends — well, OK, everyone. The total for the tickets and meal came to about $100 with tip. It might have been more but unfortunately they do not have their spirits license yet so that fabulous mountain martini will have to be had next time. Dinners, of course, cost more but the menu selections of Northwest cuisine look divine. For a little teaser, how does pan-seared diver scallops with sweet pea and crispy bacon risotto, butter-poached globe carrots and basil oil sound? And then there’s the porcini-dusted Alaskan halibut with lobster mashers, seared broccolini and lemon-fume broth. OK, I will now stop.
To conclude, I had a wow-ing experience with my partner and confidante and we will be back for another fabulous venture. Next time, we may even ski or at least bring the proper footwear.
For more information please visit their website at www.crystalmountainresort.com.