Alta Crystal Resort, Mt. Rainier National Park::In Words and Pictures

Today, the road to the top of Sunrise Pass in Mt. Rainier National Park opens.
Today, I’d like to introduce you once again to Alta Crystal Resort.  I’m so excited to welcome them back as a sponsor and help spread the word of just how awesome of a family destination they are.
Our trip last year was incredible, and our return was beyond amazing.  It was the warmest weekend of the year, straight sun and just soul warming for a late winter in grey slate skies.
When snow in the northwest begins to melt, turns frigid stream water or rapid, the high snowpack walls of Cayuse Pass are just opening for spring view.  Spring season passes at Crystal Mountain are just beginning as the interior of Mt Rainier National Park is blanketed in snow.  It will never cease to amaze me how much depends upon a few thousand feet in elevation.  And living by the sea sure strengthens my love for snow.
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On a sunny, early spring afternoon, the girls happily traded in flip flop for snow boots and island rain for sunglasses at high altitude.
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The drive up to the opening of Cayuse Pass is epic, silent in early spring.  My husband and I have a thing for tunnels.  We left the girls parked at roadside and stoood wonder-struck at tunnel’s opening. Maybe it’s all in the early shared love of a lyric:
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I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train.  Grateful Dead

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We could have sat and looked at Mt Rainier forever.  Glaciers, rock, evergreens; so familiar with Montana’s history inside us.  Whenever we leave the salt sea, it’s incredible to feel how much we’ve missed the mountains.
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Island life is great, but it makes it hard to list sledding as a favorite pass time living on the fine, salty line of the horizon.  We so often bring the black sled in truck’s cab when we visit the mainland, just in case there’s snow, Luke always says.
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The girls were ecstatic to sled, mid-May.  Spring snow is such a strange phenomena.  It’s warm, but cold all in the same.  I love how Luke wore the Hawaiian shirt he wore on our first date.  Betty grabbed my camera as Luke and I sank into the familiarity of friends in early love.
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I was scared.  Yes, this is true.  The laughter, the just-the-two-of-us sliding on snow was fantastic.  Luke had to count to three as we lunged over the edge.  Lucy, our daring middle child jumped right in and giggled the entire way down.
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Oh, we love snow and it was so much fun to play.
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Maybe it was twenty minutes back to our accomodations at the Alta Crystal Resort.  So lovely to have a short drive to a whole different  activity for awesomeness.  We took a vote, and board games won.  After a quick change out of sledding’s wet clothes, we walked to the game lodge.

It’s a quaint cabin with a porch that overlooks the river.  
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I’m not sure how much time we passed inside, Connect Four, puzzles, foosball, until it was time to explore the woods with Olive.  She’s really coming into her own personality, with an eye for dressing in flow-y soft colors.  Pink and purple:  a must.  A snack:  essential accessory.  
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Yup, she’s a funny one – that Olive June.

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We hiked trails, crossed bridges and watched birds.  I tried to teach her how to say evergreen and was smitten with her cute big-girl way.  But it was the cat atop a car that had her squealing with delight.
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We then went to the heated outdoor pool.  Our girls will always be speechless when asked what they prefer; skiing or swimming.  Our middle girl has the answer right with, um, both the same!  It’s really icing on the cake for them when there’s both planned in a weekend.

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Our balcony overlooked the pool, and it was awesome to watch Luke play with the older girls while I hung back with Olive.  We sat in the sun and looked at books.  She watched sisters splash, and after a while she wanted to join them below.  Vacation is perfect in moments like these, where time is defined in segments of activity rather than a rush to fit it all in.

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I got my suit on and found the towels and dressed our youngest.  I could hear the giggles, the splashing and the joy filtering in through the sliding doors, dancing beside the sunlight.
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It’s the sort of place that traveling with family friends just makes sense, where our children mesh so completely with one another vacation feels exactly like that:  vacation.  The vibe is so relaxing with enough room to spill into fields and chairs and trails that there’s no other way to be but relaxed.
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I love the friends my daughters are becoming with one another, the best sorts of buddies they find in each other.  It’s like they have sister secrets, with a language understood in play and whispers and smiles.  I often feel so proud of the friendship they’ve found in each other.
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I snuck away from my family and went to start getting the food ready for our evening’s BBQ.  There’s a common area, a great little spread of grass just beside the rooms with grill space. Perfect, and so are dinner preparations beside a joyful, splashingly excited family. 
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It’s a safe place, and I love that about Alta Crystal Resort.  The kids can roam from room to room and around the grounds safely.  There’s the stillness that only the mountains bring where I heard the play of children, 
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the pop of a ping pong game and the cheers of a badminton game as the sun sets.  Most of all, I heard the play of best buds.

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We stayed here Mother’s Day weekend, and really, it was a great weekend.  Our first day up at Crystal Mountain found us with happy kids and blue skies.
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Unseasonably beautiful weather found us sweating with highs near 80.  I loved each and every minute of the crisp blue heat wave.  Each run easily navigated with slush-spring snow and a smile.
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Once back in our rooms, all the mamas found a gift bag with sweets and wine and so much more.  It was a nice touch, the sort of detail that makes you feel like you’re in the home of a friend instead of a big resort.
There’s a small kitchen in the units.  For us, for a family of five, it’s wonderful to bring a cooler full of meals to cook.  It’s rare for us to go a day without sitting around the table and sharing a meal as a family.
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As a family, it’s easy for us all to agree on s’mores after a meal outdoors.  I love that Vivian of Alta Crystal Resort arranges a s’mores buffet around a fire pit.  There’s drink of all kinds, fancy roasting sticks and endless piles of marshmallows and graham crackers and chocolate.
I brought along glow in the dark bracelets for the kids.  It was the perfect addition to a campfire night after skiing.
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My favorite part about walking around the resort is how much it really feels like a piece of home.  Trails are so accesseible, located literally right behind the resort.  There’s a friendly staff, like neighbors of a summer home and, it’s just so easy to be there.  And maybe that’s the best compliment a location away from home can have, especially with small children.
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:::
Without further adieu, I’d like to introduce Alta Crystal Resort.  In the words of Alta Crystal Resort’s owner Vivian,
Alta Crystal Resort is the perfect mountain escape for Crystal Mountain and Mt. Rainier.  You’ll 
never feel overwhelmed by a crowd.  Come to a place with magic in the air.  
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Baby by the Sea: How did you come  to where you are now in your career?  What lead you to the big decision of purchasing/operating the resort?
Vivian/Alta Crystal Resort:  With a career background in marketing/advertising, I ended up working mainly for Alaska Airlines.  In 1989, I to come to Seattle to manage their advertising– a great experience which got me back into skiing again.  My husband actually came to Washington in 1990 on a short vacation to visit his sister.  He fell in love with it Washington, especially Mt. Rainier, and went back to New York, quit his Wall Street job, packed his car and moved across the country. 
I met my husband in 1991 and, since he had been skiing since he was 4, we came up to Crystal a lot to ski and hike in the summer with our dogs.  He started training to climb Mt. Rainier, a dream of his.   We really loved the area out by Crystal, and both had this idea that we’d like to own a weekend cabin – and, in fact, drove through the small housing developments around Greenwater many times looking at places that were on the market and trying to decide how we might make it work.
We had seen the Alta Crystal Resort sign for years on trips back and forth to Crystal and, on a whim, decided to stay here over Labor Day 1996.  Its location was phenomenal and they let us bring our dogs since our plan was to hike all weekend.  However, the place was really run down with dingy paint and old carpet, but we had a great weekend and probably hiked 20+ miles. 
A few months later, my husband was reading the Puget Sound Business Journal and saw a blind ad with the headline, Live your dream. Own and operate a small resort near Crystal Mountain & Mt. Rainier.  There aren’t a lot of places out here, and from the description, we both guessed it was Alta Crystal Resort.  In the interim, both of us had moved to different jobs (Steven in sales; me to a child care/preschool I purchased in North Seattle with 65+ kids), but we were both at the point where we thought we wanted to make another change.  So I said, Why don’t you call them and see what all this is about?  He did, and on July 30, 1997, we became Alta Crystal Resort’s new owners.
Baby by the Sea: What does running the resort involve?  What’s your typical day?
Vivian/Alta Crystal Resort:  I’m not sure there is a typical day!  We always laugh and say that our jobs are to do whatever’s left!  On weekends and holidays, we tend to organize and run various evening events for our guests.  We both really enjoy meeting people from the Pacific Northwest and around the world, and we think it makes the job more interesting than a typical roadside hotel where you have about a 5-minute interaction with guests when they check in and maybe 1 minute when they check out! This year, we had our first-ever guests from Dubai!
The day-to-day tasks are largely covered with office staff, a night manager, a housekeeping department and a maintenance supervisor.  I primarily handle marketing, advertising and decorating, while Steven handles finances and oversees maintenance. 
Baby by the Sea: What local experiences do your guests have access to?
Vivian/Alta Crystal Resort:  There are so many things to do out here!  We always say, if someone loves the outdoors, they’ll be in heaven here!  We also have individuals who come out here just to rest and relax, just to read in their rooms or lie by the pool or conduct business retreats.
Most guests come for hiking and sightseeing in the spring, summer and fall – and skiing or snow play in the winter.  In the summer, Mt. Rainier is the huge draw  since it is the 5th oldest national park. People from all over the world come to see it!  Crystal Mountain is the big winter draw as the largest ski area in Washington.  Crystal is now open virtually year-round with its new Mt. Rainier Gondola.  Things are changing as its summer business starts to grow, and with its newly extended spring skiing season. 
Located closest to Mt. Rainier’s Sunrise area, the highest point to which you can drive in the Park (and in all the Cascades) with the most panoramic views and hikes!  We love Sunrise since it doesn’t get as crowded as Paradise delivering more of an authentic national park experience.  However, it’s possible to visit the whole Park from here with day trips.  The Ohanapecosh area with its Grove of the Patriarchs (1000 year old trees) is just 20-25 minutes south of here and Paradise is about an hour’s drive away.
In addition to skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in winter months, Crystal offers scenic Gondola rides to 6872’, summer horseback rides, gourmet dining at The Summit House (Washington’s highest restaurant) and hiking galore!  We are actually located in the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest which offers some epic mountain biking trails, plus hiking trails everywhere!
Highway 410 is the only highway in Washington that’s both a Scenic Byway and All American Road.  The drive across Chinook Pass is awesome.  Chinook Pass also has Tipsoo Lake, an area that rivals Paradise for wildflowers.  You can also get some great photos of Mt. Rainier reflected in the lake.
Baby by the Sea: What is the atmosphere of your resort? What types of guests does it attract?  Is there a recent guest that stands out?
Vivian/Alta Crystal Resort:  Early on, we focused our market on families and couples.  We don’t want to be a ski party destination; we want to be a safe, fun place for families to visit.  We want to also be a haven for couples that enjoy sleeping at night instead of listening to late-night parties.  Our strategy seems to have worked.  We have many, many repeat guests and we love it so much!  As of July 30, 2012, we’ll have been here 15 years and many of the children we’ve met here are now going to college. 
It’s a safe place.  We love how parents let their kids come to our office/store by themselves.  In the evening, events in our recreation field have children running around, supervised by maybe 1 or 2 parents while other parents relax around the bonfire chatting and sipping on a glass of wine. 
Some of our most memorable vacation experiences are those that involve conversations with people we’ve met – which is one of the reasons we allow guests chances to interact with others at evening events.  We can’t tell you how many times summer guests have met other people from their same city (in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, wherever) and forged friendships.  We’ve also had local guests with children of similar ages meet and arrange play dates in town or even return trips together!  It’s very fun to watch these types of relationships and interactions!
This year for the first time, we got to participate in a trip with the Make A Wish Foundation, and all of us were so excited to be able to help someone’s wish come true.  A young California boy had a wish where he wanted to see and play in snow.  It was early May, and we were one of the few areas with snow still – so they called us to see if we could help.  We hosted him and his family for most of a week – and he got a chance to make snowmen, sled, snowshoe, and visit the huge walls of snow at Cayuse Pass.  I think it was as awesome an experience for us as it was for him!
Baby by the Sea:  What makes your resort a destination within itself? 
Vivian/Alta Crystal Resort:  Our location makes us a destination.  When we lived in Seattle, we loved coming to the mountains just to get away from the city and all the responsibilities that came with being at home.  Guests staying here can do as much or as little as they’d like.  If you want to just hang out in your suite or the honeymoon cabin, we’ve tried really hard to make them the type of accommodations you’d enjoy.  (We’re on round 3 of renovations in many of the suites, and we’ve already started round 4 in some.)  We keep our pool and hot tub open year-round, and heat the pool to 90 degrees in the winter.  (The propane company loves us!)  Our 1920’s recreation lodge has ping pong, foosball and all sorts of board games, and our recreation field has volleyball, croquet, badminton, horseshoes and other outdoor toys.  There are miles of hiking trails from your door (in fact, you could hike to Mexico from Alta Crystal Resort; no joke) and, in the summer, we set up a scavenger hunt through the national forest where kids search for letter clues to solve a puzzle and win a prize.  We have a rental DVD collection of 700+ movies, and snowshoes and bikes for rent.  We even have a grocery store so guests who don’t want to plan can just buy food once they get here, or we offer in-room heat and eat gourmet meals! 
Baby by the Sea: What will guests rave about to their friends and family?
Vivian/Alta Crystal Resort:  People love our atmosphere! Guests rave about our events, friendliness and location.  In the summer, we do barbecues on a donation basis (what other hotel do you know that does this?) largely because we want to get guests together in a casual, friendly atmosphere.  We have free beer, wine and sodas at all our events for the same reason.  Our bonfires have become a huge draw for guests and we host over 100 bonfires every year.  Other events include Mt. Rainier programs, movie nights with popcorn and candy, Wilderness Bingo (a fun game combining trivia questions and bingo) and games nights.  At the holidays, we have other free events like Santa visits and a New Year’s party.
Our honeymoon cabin is a wonderful romantic getaway for couples, and it’s almost like we have to pry the keys out of their hands when they leave.   In fact, the honeymoon cabin rents about 26 days out of every month!
Our suites are really comfortable for couples and families.  All have fireplaces, kitchens and more.  It’s very funny to watch kids’ faces in the summer when we check them into the Loft Suites.  Many have been staying with their parents in typical hotel rooms with 2 queen beds, and when they see that they have their own loft with their own bathroom, they’re ecstatic.

Most guests understand how we sincerely value their business and want their vacations to be something special.  We want our place to be memorable and hope that people remember their vacations here years later as something special.  My own experience is that I may remember a nice room at a hotel we’ve stayed – but I remember the experiences much more – and that’s what makes me want to return to some place!
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