You know that feeling you used to get as a child on Christmas Eve. You couldn’t sleep, you watched the clock, and if it were up to you you’d open your gifts at 4am. Years later that feeling for me has transferred to the start of the ski season. This year we chose Mt Baker to start the season.
Mt Baker is located in Washington State in the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National forest about 150kms south east of Vancouver. It has become a favorite within my circle of friends. The resort lacks pretention, probably boasts the highest per capita ratio of Subaru to skier and gets an amazing amount of glorious snow. Lift tickets will set you back about $55, that’s it? I know, I know. Use that extra money and buy yourself a pasture-fed, organic cheeseburger and the best chocolate milk you’ll ever have when you stop for lunch. Here’s the kicker, are you ready… there are never lines. A 5-minute line will induce eye rolls from the locals and I think to myself ‘they don’t even know’.
So a week before our trip the planning starts. We rent a house in nearby Maple Falls (there is no lodging on-hill), we strategize on how we are going to get through the border on black Friday weekend and we buy those last pieces of gear (e’rything Gore-Tex, it’s the Pacific Northwest, if you don’t saddle up you’ll be a soaking wet mess). The excitement is palpable, the season is FINALLY here, and it’s within our grasp.
The morning of, it’s 6am and we are locked and loaded. The drive is a relatively easy one on highway 1, the roads are dry and no one is out. Your best bet is always the Sumas border crossing when going to Mt Baker. We get lucky and wait a mere 20 minutes. Quick tip: If you are going to make Mt Baker your preferred destination, apply for a NEXUS pass and make horrible waits at the border a thing of the past.
The drive up to Mt Baker is awesome, rolling hills, properties with wide open spaces and lots and lots of trees with thick moss. There are 2 possible stops on your way up to Mt Baker: Maple Falls or Glacier. Be sure to get gas before you pass these two points as there are no stops once you head up the mountain. I would also strongly recommend chains for your tires, studded tires, winter tires or at least AWD. Mount Baker Hwy gets pounded with snow; don’t let this ruin your day.
We arrive at our destination and are stoked to see snow, mild conditions on the highway had us worried. We put on our gear and head up, the season is finally under way. Make sure to grab a map if you’ve never been, Mt Baker has 8 chairlifts that criss-cross each way and can be terribly confusing to someone new. Don’t be shy to start up a conversation with a local. You’ll get really valuable advice and everyone I’ve spoken with has been genuinely friendly.
It is early season and the coverage is thin. We still manage to salvage a whole day out of it and find little powder stashes to keep things interesting. If it had been a crazy powder day I would have spent the entire day (or until it got crazy tracked) on chair 6 riding in and out of the canyon, then I would have moved on to chair 5 and rode in the trees and finally if I just wanted some speed laps I would ride chair 4. These 3 chairs converge at the bottom of the hill at the Raven’s Hut. This A-frame lodge is fairly new and quite cozy, lots of room to sit and enjoy lunch or just warm up by the fireplace. Although we didn’t get the snow that Mt. Baker is known for it was still a complete success and we are beat.
We decide to stay overnight in Maple Falls. It’s just such a cozy area, the cabins are always pretty sweet and reasonably priced. Our grocery store of choice (there isn’t much) is Crossroads. They have an amazing selection of craft beers/cheese/produce and dvd rentals should your evening go that way. We decided to stay in and make dinner, it’s always the best option as you can stay in your long underwear and there’s no one to impress.
Without fail ski evenings always end up in playing board games, in this case Monopoly. It gets intense, people get defensive and the game is never finished but it’s a perfect ending to an amazing first day.
I know we will be back soon; everyone I’ve ever brought falls in love with the mountain and the area. It’s a quick and inexpensive escape from Vancouver so do yourself a favor and plan a trip to Mt Baker this year.