Monday, January 14th, 2013
Sledding at Mount Baker
Todd Elsworth

The forecast was showing that it was going to be a bluebird day around the Northwest. So, I suggested “Let’s go play in the snow!” We’re not talking skiing or snowboarding, we’re talking playing. Since we were headed up into the winter wilderness, we needed a CHECKLIST to make sure we had what we would need.¬† Kids (if you have them) IN the car- CHECK. Gas in the car- CHECK. Chains/Snow Tires- CHECK.¬† Sleds- CHECK. Food and beverages (esp. HOT Chocolate)- CHECK. Find a sledding hill‚Ķ well, that’s part of the fun! With that, our adventure begins.

Parking Lot for Backcountry Access

Parking Lot for Backcountry Access

From Bellingham, we drove up the Mt. Baker Highway (aka “East 542”) to “Mountain Baker” as Violet calls it. There are many places to go sledding once into the upper alpine environment, with the most popular being Picture Lake. We chose to head a bit farther up the road. We drove past the Mount Baker Ski Area and went to the end of the road just past the Heather Meadows Day Lodge. In the summer, the parking lot is known as the Bagley Lakes Trailhead Parking lot. But, in the winter it’s simply as far as you can get. This is where many backcountry enthusiasts begin their adventures!

Backcountry Sledding at Mt. Baker

Backcountry Sledding at Mt. Baker

The proximity from the parking lot to the edge of the Ski Area is quite close. We were able to walk up the cat track and quickly be in some fresh snow on some gentle slopes. We went just outside the Ski Area Boundary to be out of the way of skiers/snowboarders/snowshoers coming off the mountain. I also wanted to stay close to the car so we would have quick access to our creature comforts. The reality when it comes to sledding is that you don’t need a huge, steep hill for fun. Really, it’s about making your own sled tracks and then just making laps up and down for as long as you can last.

Sled Tracks
It felt like a New England day with blue skies and bitter cold combined with the scenic grandeur of the Swiss Alps. We were blessed with the best of all worlds of sun and snow in the shadow of Komo Kulshan (native name for Mt. Baker). One of the reasons that we chose to go to the top was for the views. Looking to the North, we had great views of Goat Mountain and the peaks that border and cross over into Canada.

North Views
Looking to the Northwest, we could see Nooksack Ridge with Mt. Sefrit and Ruth Mountain as its bookends. We were nestled in a safe setting of gentle slopes and easy access- while the surrounding scenery made it feel as though we were really OUT THERE doing something fantastic- which we were. There are plenty of small slopes to make fun sled runs for the kids. If you are a bit more ambitious, you can also head up a bit to find some steeper slopes and longer runs. The great thing about sledding is that you get to make your sled tracks go wherever you’d like.

Northern Peaks

Peaks jutting into the blue beyond

Sledding and playing in the snow is simply fun. It’s accentuated when you do it with your kids. The joy of watching kids plow through the snow as if they are conquering a seemingly insurmountable force is priceless. I hope Violet has that same enthusiasm in 10 years (or sooner) when we’re breaking trail with skis and skins looking for some sweet (and safe) lines off Table Mountain or the shoulder of Mt. Herman.

Shuksan Sledding
We enjoyed being at the end of the trail, getting to see people coming down from the mountains. They were approaching us from both angles- both in and out of bounds. It offered us an opportunity to talk with those who had been out and had the big smiles to prove it. We got back to the car, excited to have our hot chocolate waiting for us. For some crazy reason our big finale failed. The thermos we had didn’t quite do the job- but a solution was just down and around the corner.
Mt Baker Ski Area lodge and Mt Shuksan
The convenience of having the ski area up there was perfect for our emergency. We headed down to the White Salmon Day Lodge at the base for our rescue rations. The lifts were now closed, but people were still skiing down to the base. Fortunately, the lodge was open and they were still serving hot chocolate. We got ourselves a well-deserved cup and settled into a table by the window, looking out at the stunning display of rock and ice that is Mt. Shuksan. While I’ve used words to express the fun we had sledding, I think that this smile sums it up best.

Hot Chocolate Mustache

Satisfied Sledder




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About the Author:

As the Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse and co-founder of Kulshan Quest Adventure Race, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at


  1. Yes!

    Comment by Michael Lilliquist — January 23, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

  2. Heading up there right now!

    Comment by ken mann — February 24, 2013 @ 8:25 am

  3. Did you have to bring your own ‘sled’ ? Where is a good place to get one? We’re from out of town :)

    Comment by Erron — March 12, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

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