Since I started coming out to Seattle for a week every months, I've been thinking that at least once I should get in some snowboarding. This weekend seemed like a good opportunity, so I scheduled to get a rental car and try Crystal Mountain for a day. It would be two except I want to be settled in Seattle for the Super Bowl tomorrow.
Short version: despite some challenges, I still managed to have lots of fun.
Let's talk about the mountain itself first. The layout reminds me a bit of Loon, with a gondola in the middle and multiple lifts on either side, but it's a bit bigger (even if you don't count the back half) and there are other differences as well. Loon and most other New Hampshire mountains consist primarily of distinct trails, usually well marked and mostly groomed. By contrast, the whole middle half of Crystal consists of a few flat traverse trails and drops into ungroomed bowls with practically no signs except at the top so good luck finding that safe way down if you feel overmatched. It gets even hairier most other places, leaving only the left third to be shared between total beginners and intermediates. That seems a bit unbalanced to me, and frankly I was not impressed.
Now part of that might be that the conditions were especially challenging. Apparently there hasn't been much snow recently, and it rained all day yesterday, so the base is trash. In the morning it was mostly frozen crud with a few surviving patches of powder. By the afternoon it was mostly mashed-potato spring conditions, with some of the crud and even some exposed ice. It makes for a very challenging acceleration profile on the steeper sections. This wasn't helped by the fact that I was on a demo board and bindings that were simply less capable and responsive than what I have back home. The result was that I could never predict where a turn would take me. Would I turn before that big lump, or right onto it? Would I be ready for my next turn right away, or would I find a slicker patch and get carried twenty feet further? Since I couldn't predict, and didn't want to end up flailing or falling, I had to take it slow ... but going slow on spuds meant I got "becalmed" a lot. Classic hardpack would have been easier for me, though I suspect it would have been harder for everyone else I saw out there.
My few runs in the middle of the mountain were enough of a struggle that they weren't fun, so I ended up staying on the lower blues off Forest Queen. Chappelle's, Mr. Magoo, Downhill, etc. On some of the spots that had gotten scraped down (e.g. Chappelle's Run) I felt great while everyone else seemed to be intimidated, so for a dozen runs or so I was having lots of fun. Then my left foot started feeling blister-y so I quit.
That's about it for the mountain. For the rest, I can only say I was very unimpressed. The reason I was on a crappy board is that the demo center had an absolutely pathetic selection. Three boards, all optimized for conditions we didn't have today. One kind of binding and one kind of boots, likewise. That's it. Apparently they have a much better selection for skiers, but for snowboarders I think "demo" isn't even an accurate term. For that you'd need more variety. The base lodge is small, spartan (worse than Cannon for those who know it), and has limited options. For example, I still haven't found anywhere on the entire resort to buy something as simple as a bottle of Gatorade.
The hotels are also very low-grade in many ways. I don't actually mind that the decor is plywood, formica, and 50s-style textured plaster. I don't even mind too much that the wifi is bad. Those things just make me feel like I'm at the ski club. ;) What I do mind is that the heating system and insulation in a hotel at a ski resort are inadequate to keep rooms at a comfortable temperature even when it's above freezing outside. I also find the complete lack of amenities appalling. Even cheap Holiday Inns have vending machines, FFS. Unfortunately, all of the other options at or near the mountain seem to be sub-par in exactly the same ways. The whole reason I chose Crystal over Baker or Stevens is that it was the only one with on-site lodging, but at this low a standard it kind of doesn't count.
In conclusion, I'd say Crystal is a great location with potential to be a huge bucket of fun, but its management has cheaped out in practically every way. While I did enjoy myself despite everything, once I've tried those others I doubt I'll feel like coming back.