Mt. Baker: The Ultimate Guide

Myth, legend, Hardcore…

these are the words that come to mind when talking about Mt. Baker. While it’s small in stature with heavy snow, Mt. Baker is larger than life in snowboarding history. This terrain seriously packs a punch!

Why Mt. Baker?

  • Most snow in the country!
  • The roots of snowboarding…
  • It’s got that “Old School Flavor”

Your first day…

Mt Baker in the clouds

Mt Baker in the clouds

The pitter patter of rain showers hit the roof…the alarm blazes with the preprogrammed annoying sound you set the night before to ensure not to oversleep. The gloomy skies and the steady rapping are enough to make you hit snooze, curl up and drift away. That could normally be the case. Not today though. Today is your first day at Mt. Baker! Today, the anticipation and excitement alone are enough to fuel you from your slumber. Turn off the alarm, slam a Clif Bar and head for the door, grabbing your gear on the way.

Once loaded in the car the journey begins. Still half asleep the decision is to swing into one of the many local espresso bars to help clear the grogginess. Liquid salvation brings you back to life and you head out of Bellingham and begin the ascent into the Cascades. The anticipation of the day is the driving force. With rain continuing to pound as you climb; it makes you wonder if it’s really snowing on Mt. Baker at all. Windshield wipers are maxed out now and most begin to wonder if the reported 16 inches and still dumping are a myth. The large neon evergreen trees covered in moss on the drive up resonates scenes from Jurassic Park. Just then the rain begins to let up. The drops transform to slush. One more turn up the road and the slush morphs to massive white flakes. Large wet maritime flakes. They stick to everything including the car. There is no escape. It suddenly feels like you’ve been transported to the moon! Just then you see signs and exit into the White Salmon lot. As you get out of the car the snow slows down for a moment and the clouds part to expose the Shuksan arm and the massive ridgeline in front of you. No one speaks…Gazing upwards it was evident. This is a special place.

History

Normally when talking about a ski area, it’s about the history of how it began but Mt. Baker is slightly different. This is THE home of free riding for snowboarders. Looking around it’s easy to understand why Mt. Baker has a lenient policy for entering the backcountry and the infamous Mt. Baker Banked Slalom is held here. This event is one of the oldest in snowboarding and is the predecessor to the concept of boarder cross.

The Mt Baker wilderness opening up

You won’t see speed suits like Giant Slalom but rather gore-tex and twin-tip free-ride boards. Also, to keep with the grassroots style, the winner receives a Duct Tape trophy along with an embroidered Carhartt jacket. To see the course in person, head over to Chair 8 and on the rider’s right toward the edge of the ski area boundary are the berms for the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom course. Another famous landmark here is the infamous Mt. Baker Road Gap. This is the place where Shawn Farmer did the shirtless method over and nailed it the first time. Even though the Mt. Baker Road Gap is in the backcountry, to see it in person drive past the White Salmon Day Lodge and it will be located right before the Heather Meadows Base Area.

Terrain

Beginner

This isn’t the greatest place to learn riding or skiing, but there is some terrain for beginners. Head over to the Heather Meadows and check out Chair 2 or Chair 3 for the best pick of beginner terrain. Chair 3 would be a good place to introduce glade skiing/riding since it isn’t too steep. The trees are spaced enough, so it’s not too intimidating.

Intermediates

Depending on how deep the base, some terrain will be steeper in early season compared to later in the season. For example, the White Salmon trail in the beginning of the season will have nice natural whoopties that would allow someone to float little jumps down the run. Later in the winter these runs flatten out and almost become beginner terrain. Everything off of Chair 8 is super fun for an intermediate. Also, make sure to check out the little trees off of Big Hemi and Daytona. Do your best t0 let your style flow!

Expert

For being such a small resort this ski area packs a TON of expert terrain in every inch of it’s boundaries and even with some that could be deadly if you are too cocky. For example, under Chair 1 lies the “Chute”. The trail begins unassuming in a huge snowfield that is normally untracked. Turn after turn the run begins to narrow until it funnels into a tiny sliver of snow wedged in between two massive fifty foot cliffs. Shockingly this is considered inbounds! This is just one of many of the legendary extreme routes a person can take inbounds so beware when attempting a run the first time.

Do not miss

The legendary lines of the Mt Baker wilderness as seen from Mt Baker ski area The legendary lines of the Mt Baker wilderness as seen from Mt Baker ski area[/caption]

The weather at Mt. Baker can be unpredictable. Every storm that comes near Washington gets funneled right into the ski area. If the weather does clear make sure to head over to Chair 8. Standing at the top of the lift looking left the entire ridgeline, which is outside the ski area boundary is the Mt. Baker Wilderness. Some of the most famous lines from early ski/snowboard videos were filmed there. You might even get lucky enough to see a rider hiking the ridgeline to get to one of these famous runs. Be patient! Watch them drop in and see something of true beauty. Something you would normally have to pop in a ski or snowboard video to see. It’s worth the wait!

Buyer Beware

If we haven’t made it clear, Mt. Baker gets A LOT of snow! They even set the world record in the 1998-99 season where it snowed over 1,100 inches in ONE season…But beware when mother nature doesn’t cooperate and temperatures aren’t cold enough, it doesn’t snow…it rains. So, how do you know if it is going to be raining or snowing at Mt Baker? The best way to prepare is to check the weather forecast before driving up to Mt. Baker from Bellingham. When looking at the forecasts check out the weather report for Glacier, Washington. Keep your eyes peeled on what the snow level will be for that day. For best conditions it normally needs to be a snow level of 2,500 feet.

Bellingham, WA – Apres Activities

Mt Baker has a lot to offer. Awesome terrain, tons of snowboarding history and the epic snow. One thing to remember though is when it doesn’t snow its rains… so be prepared for a day off in Bellingham.
Streetscepe, Bellingham WA's Fairhaven District
– Streetscepe, Bellingham WA’s Fairhaven District by Joe Wolf, on Flickr

Just outside the national forest where Mt. Baker ski area sits, stands a few quaint cabins hidden off the road. The only way to know is a random “cabin for rent” sign, which is barely visible. Depending on what you are looking for, this is a good option if you want to be in the wilderness away from everything. Local Freshies recommendation is to stay in Bellingham. The town will provide plenty to do after riding or on a rainy day. Here is the Bellingham scoop for some of our favorite places to check out when visiting.

  • Boomer’s Drive-In
  • Waterfront Tavern
  • Lafeens Family Pride Donuts & Ice Cream

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