How To: Mt. Baker
No other resort in snowboarding’s canon plays host to as much legend, lore, mystique and history as Mt. Baker, Washington. Located just a stone’s throw from the northern border of the United States, Mt. Baker is a powder hunter’s dream resort, with thousands of rideable acres both in and out of bounds as well as terrain and landscapes that will leave you speechless. Not to mention that Mt. Baker holds the North American title for recorded snowfall in a single season at almost 1,200″ in the 1998/1999 season and averages just under 700 inches of snowfall annually. But the real beauty of Mt. Baker lies in the undevelopment of the resort itself. There’s no village, there are no spas, salons or kitschy restaurants. Just a lodge, an incredible mountain and good, genuine people who enjoy riding their snowboards. From the early days when Craig Kelly, Tex Devenport, Mike Ranquet and the rest of the Mt. Baker Hardcore put it on the map to more current times today where riders like Temple Cummis, Jake Blauvelt, Patrick McCarthy and more call Mt. Baker home, the mountain has maintained its esteem as one of the last true bastions of pure, unadulterated snowboarding. Talk is cheap, and fortunately for you, a trip to Mt. Baker, Washington can be as well. Read up and see what we’re talking about.
The most convenient airport to fly into is Seattle International, about three hours south of Mt. Baker, with a bevy of flights from all across the country landing every day. For those of you willing to spend a tad bit more for convenience, there’s the option of flying into the airport in Bellingham, Washington which puts you at just about a 45-minute drive to Glacier, Washington, a sleepy little hollow at the base of Baker where you’ll be staying.
Unlike many resorts today, Mt. Baker understands that in order to maintain their dedicated fanbase, they need to keep their prices down, and they certainly have. A day ticket to Baker costs merely $61.00 (weekend and holiday) or $56.00 (midweek/non-holiday) and a season pass is only $790.00, which is an absolute steal in regard to the terrain you get to ride at Baker. If you’re going for a ten-day trip or more, buy the season pass. If you’re only stopping in for a few days, go a la carte and purchase by the day. Either way, you won’t find many more mountains in the States that have the terrain that Baker does and offers prices anywhere near these.
Where to Stay
Want a cushy 5-star hotel with a spa, heated pool and a high-falutin’ lounge with a mixologist stirring up your spirits? Then Mt. Baker isn’t for you at all. And that’s the best part about it. You’re gonna stay in Glacier, Washington, a tiny little Hamlet at the base of Baker with plenty of Air BnB options and rental accommodations. Hop on Google or the Air BnB app and find your little spot. And stock up on food on the drive north from Seattle, because there’s no big grocery store in Glacier. Hell, there isn’t even cell service. You’re disconnected with the real world but fully connected to the mountain culture up in Glacier.
Where to Ride
There are so many options of where to ride at Mt. Baker that it would take you a decade to hit it all, but below are some of the essentials when lapping Baker.
—Chair 1 Chute: Right under Chair 1. It’s a pretty wide chute, but has a steep pitch, and if you get it early, there’s some really fun drops towards the end.
—Gunner’s Ridge and into the Canyon: Gunner’s only opens when the backside of Hemispheres is avy controlled, or considerably stable. When the ridge opens, usually mid day, it’s a really good spot to find untracked pow. And then the Canyon run afterwards is a classic natural halfpipe. Jamie Lynn had shots in The Garden in the canyon and it hosts super epic side hits.
—Chicken Ridge and Blueberry Cat Track: Chicken Ridge always has nice drops and a steep pitch. Best to hit it early, as it can get tracked at the bottom, and the runout sucks after 10am. Blueberry Cat Track is a little further down from Chicken, and is super fun to jump off. The cat track is actually a switchback road that leads to Artist Point in the summer, so you can jump off the top, and then about halfway down the switchback is carved out again, and there’s another wicked hit.
—Chair 7 Trees: Take an immediate left off of Chair 7 and duck into the trees. It’s a go-to mid-day spot to find some untracked pow. Veer more right to grab the less ridden stuff and look out for a mini cliff band that is super fun. When you hit the cat track at the bottom, you’ll need to skate out, but it’s worth it.
—Hemispheres: The second most popular out-of-bounds zone at Mt. Baker. Follow the bootpack straight up off of Chair 5. It’s fun as all hell on a pow day, especially if the sun is out and the weather is cold.
—The Arm: The most popular out-of-bounds zone at Mt. Baker. Follow the crowds unless you’re up very early on a bluebird day. The Arm has everything from mellow , lower angle runs to hair-raising psycho drops and cliffs, so go with someone that knows the area so you don’t get lost or keep it very very safe on terrain that doesn’t look too dangerous. You can have the best day ever or the worst day ever on The Arm. It all depends on the terrain you choose to ride given the snow conditions.
—The Elbow: Take an immediate right off of Chair 5 to the backcountry access gate. When you drop in, if you stay right you’ll drop into Gordy’s Gulch, which is a really sick natural halfpipe. To the left, there are wide open pow fields that funnel into sick tree runs. Make sure you don’t miss the traverse out at the bottom, or you might get cliffed out on a run called Fly on the Wall. If you fall down this, you die.
—Table Mountain: Take the high line on Blueberry cat track until you hit the backcountry access gate. This is a really good spot to get away from the crowds. When everyone is Hollywooding it up on The Arm and The Beast, there are way less riders out on Table. The hike or split is relatively flat, and you can pick and choose your drop in spot to the right. Be prepared to hike or split out, back to the ski area boundary.
There’s really only one event that Mt. Baker does every year, but it’s far and away the biggest event in the snowboard world, and it’s the longest running contest in the histpry of our sport. The Legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom. Riders from Craig Kelly and Terje Haakonsen to Temple Cummins and Nils Mindnich have been granted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of hoisting the coveted golden duct tape above their heads, but if you wanna compete yourself, go to mtbaker.us and enter the lottery to participate. If your number is chosen and you happen to get a spot, you’d be a fool to pass it up. It’s the greatest event in snowboarding every year for more than 30 years running.
There aren’t a ton of options for food in Glacier, but what options there are stack up with the best. Food up at the Mt. Baker lodge is really inexpensive and super good (try the salmon chowder!) but down in town, these are the spots to eat.
—Heather Meadows Tap Room: Usually only open on Fri—Sun, the Tap Room is a classic spot where you’ll find Mt. Baker locals gathering for a drink, and possibly claiming what they threw down that day.
—Chair 9: Good pizza, WiFi and flat screens (usually playing Seahawks games) and a massive bar. This is the go-to gathering spot for some après.
—Milano’s: Although the Debari family doesn’t own it anymore, it’s still a classic. My favorite is the foriana.
—Graham’s Restaurant and Store: Good American burger spot and the only general store in town is right next door.
—The Wake and Bakery: This is the best breakfast stop, and or coffee/pastry spot. Breakfast burritos are always so good here, and will keep you fueled for the whole day up at the mountain.
The Mt. Baker Snowboard Shop hails itself as “The Shop That Grew With The Great Northwest.” Chances are, if you’ve ever read a snowboard magazine, you’ve heard of MBSS. Started by the legendary George Dobis decades ago, it’s recently been brought back, renovated and re-stocked, so stop in, say hi and at the very least, grab a tee or a sticker and wear it with pride.
Other Off-Hill Amenities
Recently, Washington state passed a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana use in the entire state, so if you’re from out of town, you can possess pot legally! Check out Green Stop in Maple Falls, on the way to Glacier. It’s the closest recreational marijuana store and the best spot to roll up before you roll out to the mountain!