Erik Gunderson walked into the Auburn High School math class he teaches on Tuesday morning and told the kids he wouldn’t be working that day.
The heavy storm over the weekend had dumped 2 feet of snow on Crystal Mountain, enough that the resort opened briefly for 53 skiers lucky enough to purchase a $15 lift ticket. Gunderson, 33, was one of them.
“I went in, saw my first class, said, ‘This is what you need to do. See you,’ ” Gunderson said on the gondola ride up before his first run.
Gunderson, who used to work at Crystal and once skied for Washington State University, gets two personal days each school year. Tuesday was one of them.
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What Crystal offered Gunderson and the others was the rarest of opportunities — a chance to ski in October. The opening was the earliest ever for Crystal, said spokeswoman Tiana Enger, adding it’s the earliest opening of any seasonal ski resort in the country this year.
“Some of our guys skied yesterday and came back with a big smile,” Enger said. “We said to ourselves we can’t let this go to waste.”
So Monday afternoon, Crystal posted a note on its Facebook page announcing that it would sell the discounted lift tickets to the first 51 people who purchased them on its site. The idea proved so popular that the website crashed almost immediately.
“As a result of that, we’re getting a new server,” Enger said.
Two hours after the crash, Crystal posted on Facebook that it would sell the $15 tickets to the first 75 people who commented on the post about their favorite thing about the resort. To those whose entries were selected, getting the opportunity to ski in October was like winning Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. (Not all 75 winners showed up to claim their ticket.)
“First day of skiing — you can’t put a price on it,” said Dustin Berman, a 24-year-old part-time United Parcel Service worker in Seattle.
William Zornes, a 42-year-old industrial hydraulics tech for Helac in Enumclaw, said his boss and his boss’ boss weren’t so sure about letting him take the day off. But his boss’ boss’ boss let him.
“He used to be a skier and he said, ‘I get it,’ ” Zornes said.
Some skipped school, including Kaden McFarland, a 17-year-old high-school senior from Anacortes.
“My mom was not for it. She was not vibing with it,” McFarland said.
But she capitulated when his post was selected for a ticket.
The mountain opened at 10 a.m. and stayed open only until 1 p.m. Before skiers and snowboards boarded the gondola, Blaine Horner, a ski-patrol member, gathered everyone and cautioned them about the sketchy conditions and encouraged safety.
“You could just not get hurt and save us the hassle,” Horner joked.
As for the skiing, there was plenty of light powder at the highest elevations, and everyone got to make their own fresh tracks. The coverage diminished at the lower elevations, with rocks and tree branches barely hiding beneath, leading Crystal to dub the day Rocktoberfest.
The resort opened so early that it wasn’t really ready for skiers. Only the gondola was in operation, so skiers and snowboarders had to either ride part way down the mountain and hike back up to get the best snow, or brave the thinner snow coverage at the bottom of the mountain to catch the gondola back up.
None of that seemed to discourage the skiers or snowboarders who showed up. Tuesday’s skiing and snowboarding were about getting in the first runs of the season, and doing so long before anyone else. Bragging rights were almost as important as taking a few turns, as folks snapped pictures on their mobile phones and posted them on social media.
Crystal isn’t planning to reopen any time soon. Enger said warm weather is coming, which will melt the already thin coverage. So skiers will likely have to wait until late November, when Crystal typically opens, to take their next runs down the mountain.
Jay Greene: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: iamjaygreene