Myth, legend, hardcore… these are the words that come to mind when talking about Mt Baker snowboarding. 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 Visit It?
- Most snow in the country!
- The roots of snowboarding…
- It’s got that “Old School Flavor”
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 would 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 protein bar, and grab your gear on the way out the door.
Landscape Reminiscent Of Jurassic Park
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 as you head out of Bellingham and begin the ascent into the Cascades. The anticipation of the day is the driving force. The rain continues 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 pull 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.
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 and snowboarding go hand in hand. It has a lenient policy for entering the backcountry. The infamous Legendary Banked Slalom is held here. This event is one of the oldest in snowboarding and is the predecessor to the concept of boardercross.
You won’t see speed suits like Giant Slalom but rather Gore-Tex and twin tip freeride 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 the road 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.
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.
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 whoops that would allow someone to float little jumps down the run. Later in the winter though, 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 to let your style flow!
For being such a small resort, this ski area packs a TON of expert terrain in every inch of its boundaries and even with some that could be deadly if you’re 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 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 for the first time.
Do Not Miss
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 is outside the ski area boundary and known as 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!
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 with that, beware when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and temperatures aren’t cold enough. When that happens, it doesn’t snow…it rains. So, how do you know if it’s 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, we focus on 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. Otherwise, your Mt Baker snowboarding session may be a little sloppy.
What To Do If Ma’ Nature Flipped Off Old Man Winter
So, conditions aren’t cooperating for some Mt Baker snowboarding session? Luckily, Bellingham is a cool town to hang out in if the snow isn’t as good as forecasted. Head over to our in-depth guide to Mt Baker and Bellingham where we give you insight on our favorite local places to eat, drink, and be merry when in town.