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There is nothing quite like the crisp, exposed atmosphere of alpine mountains. Unfortunately, reaching these elevations can be a pretty big job. So last fall, I happily headed to Crystal Mountain Ski Area, in the Cascade Mountains about an hour and a half southeast of Seattle where I live, to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain.
In the summer, the Mount Rainier Gondola  welcomes dogs. I figured Renzo, my Husky-Border Collie mix, and I would ride in style, taking in the fantastic views during the 2,500-foot climb to the summit and there enjoy, without so much as a bead of sweat on my brow, the lens-popping view of the snow-covered dome of Mount Rainier. Weather-permitting. Then we’d hike down leisurely with gravity on our side, weaving through fir, hemlock and cedar forests, skirting deep blue alpine lakes and crossing lush meadows loaded with sunflowers, columbine, lupine, Indian paintbrush and more.
Ah, the best intentions. The gondola operators were ready and eager. As was I. Renzo had other ideas. The strange, swinging gondola cars careening noisily into the loading station alarmed him. When I could get him to approach, coaxed by treats, the fact that the gondola never fully stopped seemed to be a deal-breaker. My dog is an anxious one so I wasn’t willing to carry him aboard for a 20-minute ride from hell.
We hung around and watched two dogs hop aboard without hesitation before turning boots and paws upland. I was bent on seeing that summit view, which is often socked in when I ski there, even if we had to do it the hard way. It was a longer and more exhausting day than I had planned but the real point was just getting out together in this beautiful place. I was glad it was just the two of us, with no one disappointed by the change of plans.
Trail past small lake, the "view" of Rainier on Sept. 17, 2011
Still I do think gondolas offer a wonderful chance for access to backcountry views for families with younger children, grandparents and a senior dog or too—always with the caveat that things may not go as planned.
The Mount Rainier Gondola runs every day from June 17–September 19, and then weekends-only through October 2. If you live near or plan to travel to a ski area with a gondola, check to see if it’s dog-friendly. I hear the views are often fabulous.