Mt. Baker, Washington
Mountain resorts need snow, and this resort in the northwest corner of Washington state gets more of it than any other.
This is not hype. During the 1998/99 season, Mt. Baker set a new world record, certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for a winter season’s snowfall of 1,140 inches. The annual average is 647 inches, the most of any North American ski area. So if you’re looking in your atlas to find this wonder of white, we should tell you that the ski area is not actually located on the 10,778-foot volcano of the same name. It’s on an arm of 9,127-foot Mt. Shuksan, one of the most photographed mountains in the world. It’s also one of the most listened to, since its careening chunks of steep glacial avalanche can be seen and heard for miles around (they’re well out of the ski area, so no worries, mate). But imagine the thrill of witnessing a slide from a distant chairlift.
In an era when smaller ski hills and non-destination resort ski areas are disappearing, Mt. Baker’s success is an exception. Location, location and location—Baker draws skiers and snowboarders from both Vancouver, British Columbia, one hour north and Seattle, two-and-a-half hours south—has a lot to do with it, but the main ingredients are its deep snow and its “non-corporate” style of management. It’s just funky.
Mt. Baker’s improvements are paid for cash-on-the-barrelhead so you won’t see any high-speed bubble gondolas. But the mountain converted all double-chairs to quads. The fun one is Chair 3, known as Up & Up because it loads from two sides of the same mountain.
The award-winning White Salmon Day Lodge has spectacular views of Mt. Shuksan. It’s the center of the lower base area and is three miles closer to the nearest down-mountain town of Glacier. It has has full food service and espresso, beer and wine. The Cascadian architecture of the building is full of pleasant surprises, from the paw prints in the restrooms to salmon sculptures in the railings to hand-carved animal newel posts. Performance rental equipment is available here; you can find regular gear and instruction at the upper Heather Meadows Base Area.
New last season is the Cascadia-style Raven Hut Lodge. Rivaling the fine local design and construction is the local dining options, including a Bellingham favorite Man Pies, grass-fed beef and local Bread Farm soup bread bowls. The 300-seat lodge is ski-in only.
The mountain offers all-day possibilities to skiers and snowboarders alike, with plenty of faces and woods that bring out the pioneer spirit. This is truly snowboarder heaven, where the hardcore insist “snowboarding was born.”
One drawback to the ski area’s low elevation is that the freezing level can yo-yo, and marginally cold days can turn snow to rain without notice. Ski patrollers keep a few sets of dry clothes in their hut for themselves. Bring a change of clothes for yourself, it’s good insurance.