Dec 04, 2008
There’s no park scene at Crystal, so go for the backcountry access, limitless terrain, and the views of Mount Ranier, which most of the time you’ll have all to yourself.
78 miles northeast of Seattle and sloppy transforms into steep, deep, and dry at Stevens Pass
Quick Tip: Alpental, one of four base areas that make up the Summit at Snoqualmie, is traditionally closed on Mondays. Go on a Tuesday to maximize your odds of getting fresh tracks and minimize the potential for crowds coming up from Seattle.
Located 17 miles up a winding road from the sleepy town of Glacier, Mt. Baker is a throwback ski area where lift tickets are still affordable ($51), lift lines are rare, and the average annual snowfall is 701 inches (last winter it got 857 inches). For quicker access to the expert terrain, drive to the second base area, Heather Meadows. And bring your backcountry pack: Some of the best skiing lies just outside the boundary gates. Refuel at Chair 9 or Graham’s, both in the town of Glacier. There’s no on-mountain lodging, but you can dock your RV in the parking lot.
Start Here: Line up at Chair 5 and take your first run right under the lift. Gabble’s will take you back to the lift, so continue keep skiing laps until other runs open.
Quick Tip: Closures aren’t obvious and there are deadly cliffs inbounds. The closures can be marked solely by a small orange disk or a single rope line—be on the look out.
Must Hit: The Homerun Gap sends skiers over the Blueberry Catwalk on the way to the upper lodge. From the top of Chair 1, head skier’s left and follow the Blueberry Catwalk to the bottom. You will find the gap where the catwalk and the Home Run trail intersect. Skiers will be waiting there to hit the 20-foot gap.
The Stash: At the top of Chair 7, drop skier’s right into the old-growth trees. Wiggle through until you come out on a cat track that’ll lead you to the White Salmon Base Area.
Powder Day: Head skier’s right from the top of Chair 6 towards Sticky Wicket. Stay left of The Canyon closure rope. Among old growths, enjoy the longest pow run on the mountain all the way back to the base of the chair.
Three Days Later: If you’re backcountry savvy, get off Chair 8 and head straight for the resort boundary. Immediately in front of you is the boot pack that will take you to the Shuksan Arm, Mt. Baker’s most accessible backcountry. At the top, head out the skin track to the left towards The Arm. Most lines are noticeably steep and will provide opportunity to practice sluff management skills.
Park and Pipe: Mt. Baker isn’t a park-and-park kind of place. Although the 2009/2010 season the resort will have a kid’s park.
Backcountry Access: You can leave the boundaries of the resort from any direction and re-enter from any access point, but make sure you’re familiar with the mountain’s backcountry policies. You must always have a partner, avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, and know the avalanche forecast for the day, plus the name and location of your touring plans. Also, the resort informs backcountry skiers that rescue is not always possible and rescue fines can start at $500. Check nwac.us for avalanche forecasts.
Weather: If your goal is a great goggle tan, you’re going to the wrong place. Mt. Baker receives an average of 647 inches per season. Early season storms quickly build the base around late December. For most of the season you can expect stormy weather. The only chance for sun and to see the surrounding peaks is usually in the spring, which also tends to bring intermittent storms.
Après: The Tap Room, the resort’s only bar, located upstairs in the Heather Meadows Day Lodge, offers beer and pretzels. Buy a pitcher, sit down at the bar’s cafeteria tables, and try making small talk with a local.
Fuel: There are two choices for lunch: the upper and lower lodge cafeterias. Try the upper lodge at Heather Meadows. Order the Erock special pizza from the base level snack counter—the ingredients vary daily and include everything from anchovies to beets.
Up All Night: The nearby town of Glacier has two restaurants, one store, and one ski shop. No coffee shops, no gas stations, no Internet. It’s sleepy to say the least, but Graham’s Bar and Restaurant offers beer, food, and live entertainment on weekends.
Digs: If you want to stay close to the mountain, try renting a cabin in Glacier for $249 a night [mtbakerlodging.com]. Otherwise rent a cabin in Maple Falls or a hotel room in Bellingham, respectively 40 minutes and one hour away.
Elevation: 3,500 feet Vertical Drop: 1,500 feet Snowfall: 647 inches Info: www.mtbaker.us