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CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN

By Ron Swarner

I was planning to hike up the new chair to check it out but couldn't get around to it. I sent "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin in my stead.

I took a shower washing every body part with actual soap, including all my major crevasses, including in between my toes and in my belly button, I never did that before but I sort of enjoyed it. I washed my hair with adult formula shampoo and used cream rinse for that just-washed shine. I knew I had to hike up to Green Valley to see the new lift, so I packed the essentials: map, compass, water, flashlight, extra food, waterproof matches, extra clothing, sunglasses, first-aid kit, pocket knife and fire starter.

When I went to check out the new chair lift at Crystal Mountain, it was really sunny. When my mom and I drove into the Crystal Mountain parking lot, we were the only ones there. I told my mom to stay in the car 'cause I could do this by myself. "Say goodbye, Macaulay," said my mom. "Goodbye, Macaulay," I said.

I walked past the ticket booths 'cause you don't need tickets to hike and mountain bike the Crystal Mountain trails 'cause the lifts are closed until ski season. For some reason I had the whole mountain to myself. Good.

I started to hike up the Exterminator run. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The air was cool, so I wore my gray Marmot jacket, Merrell hiking boots and hiking shorts. When I reached a third of the way up Exterminator, I went right and started to head up the Sluiceway trail. I took off my jacket because I was sweaty and just wore my long sleeve Dry-Fit shirt.

A big yellow truck full of cement blocks approached me on Sluiceway. When it passed me, I told the driver I was hiking up to Green Valley to see the new chair lift. I also told him hiking is great training for skiing and snowboarding and that I plan to do a lot of snowboarding this year. I told the truck diver I have a friend named Peter Shmock who is a fitness trainer who owns Elite Edge in Seattle. I told him that Peter says strength, power, anaerobic fitness and good balance are important to skiing technique and can greatly enhance one's skiing ability. Hiking, mountain biking and trail running, and trips to the gym, work many of the same muscles crucial for a strong day on the slopes. I told him hiking fast up hill with a heavy load could enhance power and anaerobic fitness. I also told him boulder hopping trains one's body's kinesthetic sense, whatever that means. I told him he could train for balance at home walking up stairs, backwards, with his eyes closed or run sideways, much like a defensive back covering a receiver might do. I told him closing his eyes removes the "righting eye reflex" and challenges one's balance at a higher level, whatever that means. He thanked me for the information and continued to drive up.

The hike was steep but on a well-maintained trail. I reached the base of the new chair lift within an hour. There were many men working. The poles were all in but there wasn't any cable or chairs. The base terminal was relocated 50 yards to the north because of environmentally sensitive wetlands. Nobody was crying so I think it helped. There was a small log cabin next to the lift. The men said that's where the people who run the lift will stay.

I told the men I wouldn't be a pain in the butt and would watch them from far away. While I watched the men work, I ate some beef jerky, a Powerbar and drank some water. I wish my mom had packed a cheese pizza.

Once back at the bottom, I visited two grownups in the marketing office. They said the new lift is a $2.2 million Doppelmayr high-speed detachable quad. They said its name is Green Valley after a popular spring Internet naming contest showed that most favored the original name. The new lift will whisk 1,800 people per hour to the top of Green Valley. The average ride time will be two-and-a-half minutes, that's a five-minute savings of time. The pretty lady said the log cabins are at all the lifts. She said the wood was cut close to Crystal, then moved to Montana where some guy built them, then trucked them back to Crystal. She said I couldn't have one.

The grownups also said ticket prices would be $40 including night skiing Friday through Sunday, $35 for a half day and $20 for night skiing until 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. They said I could come back and snowboard in mid-November if there is snow. I gave them some Pez and left.

When I reached the car there was one more car. I thought people are real dorks for not hiking or biking on such a nice day. I got in the car, kissed my mom and said, "To the office madam and pronto." She made some mean comment about me being 19 years old.

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