- Jan. 19, 2016
- Mt. Baker
- Vertical for the day: 27,000
- Year total: 228,000
A few years ago, I was riding on a chairlift with an acquaintance. We were talking about our favorite Northwest ski areas.
“I like the vibe at Mt. Baker,” she said. “It’s relaxed and doesn’t feel ‘resort-y’.” Later that season, on her recommendation, I went to Baker and had a great day skiing fresh snow among easygoing locals.
It had been a few years since I had been back. As I drove up for my 13th day this season, I wondered if Baker was still full of good vibes.
I pulled in to a nearly empty parking lot and clear skies. So far so good.
If you can hit Mt. Baker on a clear day, you’re in luck. You’ll have incredible views of the North Cascades and 9,131-foot Mount Shuksan, one of the most iconic peaks in the Northwest.
Usually, storms are the norm. This place gets pounded and is famous for collecting huge snowfall totals. On this day, there was about 3 inches new. Not a typical Baker dump, but plenty to shred and have fun.
I headed to Chair 6 on the Panorama Dome side of the ski area to check out some of my favorite runs. Good karma ruled as I unloaded — untracked slopes were abundant.
I skied several unhurried powder runs among the sparse crowd. Unlike most places on the west side of the Cascades, there was no intense competition to beat others to the best snow. Plenty to go around.
One highlight was “The Canyon,” one of Baker’s signature runs. The top, called Gunner’s Bowl, leads into a narrow canyon with huge cliffs on each side. It’s dramatic and fun to ski between those mountain walls.
But the highlight of the day was Pan Face, a wide open and at times steep run down to the Heather Meadows side of the mountain. On weekdays, the Heather Meadows base area is closed, as are some of the lifts on that side of the mountain. But you can still ski Pan Face and then traverse back to chairlift access.
An hour into the morning, I headed to Pan Face. Amazingly, I had first tracks. Throughout the day, I returned several times to ski different lines down this incredible landscape, and each time found freshies.
After an excellent morning on Chair 6, I ate my customary packed lunch along with a quick cup of lodge coffee — not great, but caffeine all the same — at the Raven Hut. The coffee might have been a letdown, but everything else at this mid-mountain lodge is cozy, complete with a welcoming fireplace.
Afterwards, I traveled to the more intermediate Chair 8 side of the mountain. With Mount Shuksan looming above, I found lots of untracked powder and fast groomers.
Besides offering exceptional intermediate terrain, Chair 8 is the gateway to the famous Mt. Baker backcountry. Skiers and boarders climb from the top of Chair 8 to Shuksan Arm, a ridge extending from Mount Shuksan. The ridge offers access to big-mountain style drops, that eventually lead back to the ski area.
You need a partner, a transceiver, probe and shovel to ski this out-of-bounds terrain. Mt. Baker Ski Area doesn’t patrol it or control for avalanches.
On this day, the in-bounds slopes offered plenty of challenges for the solitary SkiZer. I eventually ventured back to Chair 6, where Pan Face was calling. As afternoon wore on, I found myself returning again and again for fresh tracks and powder thrills.
It didn’t disappoint.