Monday, January 4th, 2016
Powder Day at Mt Baker Ski Area
Todd Elsworth

Powder Alert! 16″ tomorrow!!

This was essentially the text I received from my friend in Tacoma on Wednesday morning- as his way of letting me know that I’d have to call in well the following day. By the evening he was at my house applying fresh layers of wax to our skis, while enjoying an even fresher Kulshan IPA .

By the morning, we were en route to FRESH POWDER at Mt Baker Ski Area. Yes, Freshies all the way around! After a hearty homemade breakfast we were heading east on the Mount Baker Highway aka EAST 542! We didn’t stop. There are all kinds of signs along the way. But the one we wanted to see most was: Mt. Baker Ski Area WHITE SALMON – 1/4 mile.

MtBakerSkiAreasign

We were almost there. The coal black ravens were pointing the way to the White Salmon Lodge at the entrance to the area.

MtBakerSkiAreaWhiteSalmon

I studied The Raven in college and am continuously drawn to the mystery and mythology they exude. These sculptures sit, pointing the way but also as a warning of the raw nature of the alpine environment we were about to enter.

MtBakerSkiAreaRavens

These were our first turns of the year, so we wanted to ease into the day. We chose to head over to Chair 8. I enjoy the variety that you can find making laps on this far left section of the area. Start out on Oh-Zone and Daytona. If you want to extend the reach, cruise on Big-Hemi and make your way back to the base for a couple warm up laps.

MountBakerSkiAreaChair8As we arrived at the top of the lift, it was evident that visibility would not be in our favor. The ski patrol hut was within view, but the backdrop of Shuksan visible on clear days was not with us on this particular outing. That was just fine. Because it was SNOWING!!

MtBakerSkiAreaChair8

We enjoyed the laps, weaving in and out of the groomers- dodging under the chair for some steeper slopes when we felt we had the legs. Expanding our reach out into Easy Money and the edges to get some challenging shots and fresh tracks.

Surprisingly, we weren’t the only telemark skiers on the mountain. We shared the slopes with another gal and guy who also refuse to let go of their Norwegian ski roots and lock the heels down. Good company to keep.

Whether you’re a freeheeler or a knuckle-dragger, the unique aspect of shussing is that you can go your own way! At the area there are groomed runs that you can follow, but just off the beaten path are pockets of goodness that the carefree passerby might fail to miss.

When it’s a POWDER Day, the objective is to make turns through as many UNTRACKED lines as possible. Bar none. We put in a good round of laps for our first day and decided that it was time to head into the Raven Hut. The birds had been drifting in the drafts all day as a welcoming invitation for us to settle in.

MtBakerSkiAreaRavensHut

Inside we found warm space to settle in for a social lunch. Such nice people all around- must have had something to do with the great conditions and lack of lift lines.

MtBakerSkiAreaview

The great thing about “half-time” while skiing is sitting (or standing) by the fire telling tall tales of the runs that you just experienced, collectively and individually.

MtBakerSkiAreaFireplace

I was most impressed by the creativity of hanging a helmet with a fork. Mind over matter.

MtBakerSkiAreaFork

We polished off lunch. You know you are having a good time when you can feel the nourishment of a meal pumping through your veins, replenishing the spent energy in your tanks. With our tanks topped off, we set back out into the winter wonderland.

Riding up C-5, we looked down, with respect and admiration, upon three wise people skiing Gabl’s. The run is a DOUBLE BLACK that weaves beneath the chair. Named after Franz Gabl, who was an early influence on the development of the ski area.

MtBakerSkiAreaGabl

We had some space to cover, yet still. Click on the map below for a closer view. After our last laps on Chair 5, we next set our sights on C-6.

MtBakerSkiAreaMap
Getting off at the top of the chair, we had some choices to make. North Face? Canucks? Canyon? We chose to work our way up from the bottom. So we went right.

MtBakerSkiAreaChoices

The Canyon. Even in low visibility conditions, you can see the walls closing in on the run. It’s tight. A must do.

MtBakerSkiAreaCanyon

We got our game on and charged hard to get it while the gettin’ was good. There was no more time for taking photos, we were out for freshies. We found ’em.

It’s just not a complete day if you don’t get some turns in the trees. My favorite tree skiing is just off of Sticky Wicket. It is such a rush to wind your way through the natural gates of the forest. A word to the wise, though: Tree Wells Account For 20% of All Ski Area Deaths.

Tree Wells & SIS Safety: What is a Treewell or SIS Accident from SIS Safety Videos on Vimeo.

At the end of it all, we retired to the White Salmon base lodge for a refreshing beverage and some nourishing morsels. We also told more tales of our mountain adventures.

“Let’s do this again,” we agreed.

MtBakerSkiAreabeer

BTW- Mt. Baker is #1. Top 20 Deepest Snowpacks in the USA.
We also hold the world record.
Yes, This is the place to BE!

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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 RecreationNorthwest.org.