Mount Baker ski resort holds the unofficial title for the deepest annual snowfall in the entire world. This no frills resort offers some of the Cascades best and most challenging skiing.
Searching for powder? Look no further than Washington’s Mount Baker. Mount Baker is one of the classic resorts of the Pacific Northwest and a must-visit for skiers looking to test their skills and leg muscles in the North Cascades. Featuring 1,500 vertical feet of steep, cliff-laden inbounds terrain, Baker can shake the confidence of the strongest skiers, but also provide an unmatched powder skiing experience for those who ski within their ability.
Situated on the slopes of one of the Cascades’ tallest mountains, the resort enjoys the luxury of being blanketed by snow every time a storm makes landfall in one of the stormiest locations in North America. Being close to the ocean comes at a price, however, as Mount Baker’s snow tends to be wet and heavy. Of course, that type of snow is great for building base and keeps Mount Baker atop annual snowpack measurement lists.
Mount Baker is sometimes overlooked by bigger mountains in the Southern Cascades such as Stevens Pass, Crystal Mountain or Snoqualmie, but definitely worth the trip down Highway 542. Don’t go looking for a world-class resort experience, however, as “Baker” rests in a remote part of the Snoqualmie National Forest, and that’s just how the owners want to keep it.
+ Consistent Powder Days / Most Annual Snowfall in North America
+ Extremely Steep Expert Terrain and Massive Backcountry Zones
+ Affordable Tickets and Passes
– Very Remote Location with Little Amenities Outside of Skiing / Difficult to Get There
– Small Mountain for Skiers Staying Inside the Ropes
Updated for Winter 2014-2015 – Roger Tufts
The terrain at Mount Baker can only be described as “gnarly.” It is not uncommon to run into a multitude of sizable cliffs on marked expert runs. Due to the huge amounts of moisture-heavy snowfall the resort receives, snow sticks to the steepest of slopes and faces. As a consequence, there are many skiable lines at Mount Baker that would be too steep to hold snow in other parts of the country. Mount Baker almost always has the deepest snowpack in the United States, but it needs it to cover its rocks, trees, and vegetation.
Mount Baker features 8 quad lifts and 2 surface lifts servicing 1,000 acres of terrain. The lift layout can be slightly confusing, so be sure to study the trail map before visiting. Baker is also split into two base areas and it can be easy to get to the end of the day and forget where your gear and vehicle are located.
The slow moving lifts will also offer skiers time to enjoy serene views of nearby Mt. Shuksan or the stratovolcano Mount Baker looming in the distance—if weather allows. If not, enjoy the powder and the tremendous ability of Baker’s local crop of skiers and snowboarders who like to showboat on the steep terrain underneath lifts 1, 5, and 6.
Sticking to its classic, blue-collar nature, a lift ticket at Mount Baker will also not break the bank. A mere $57 for a day pass is a breath of fresh air in a sport where ticket prices can easily break the century mark.
While Mt. Baker is certainly not primarily a beginner skier’s mountain, ownership has made sure not to turn beginners away from its slopes. The mountain offers ski school classes for beginners, and green runs can be found off of lifts 2, 3, 4, and 5. Lift 1 also offers beginner skiing, just be sure to get off at the midway point to avoid the tough terrain near the top of the mountain.
Mount Baker's beginner trails offer enjoyable features like widely spaced trees at a flatter pitch, but may prove difficult to traverse during the deepest of powder days. True beginners can also utilize the surface lifts located near both base lodges.
Between powder days, Mount Baker grooms intermediate runs all over the Shuksan Arm portion of the resort. These runs all located off of lifts 7 and 8 offer a fun test for intermediate skiers, and a break for experts on deep leg-burning powder days. These trails are wide open and offer beautiful views of the surrounding Cascades on clear days. Other intermediate trails may be found near the backside of Panorama Dome and near lifts 3 and 4, offering intermediate widely spaced tree skiing and bailouts for those with muscle cramps.
Intermediate runs make up nearly half of the marked runs at Mount Baker, however they seem to cover less area than marked expert runs. Blue Squares tend to follow a set course, while expert runs leave more room for the imagination when it comes to choosing a line.
While options exist for beginners and intermediates, it’s the experts who will enjoy Mount Baker most. Expert skiers must ascend to the upper reached of the resort to reach the steeped terrain, but will be rewarded with a true test of their confidence and ability.
While often closed on deep powder days, The Canyon zone offers a steep, fast run through a narrow canyon that is unlike anything found in-bounds at other resorts. When the snow is deep, head to lifts 1, 5, and 6. Act quickly though; Mount Baker’s in-bounds terrain is not large. Powder days attract skiers from as far away as Seattle, and the mountain can get tracked-out very quickly.
Mount Baker also features incredible local talent. These are the folks you will see calmly stomping cliffs and showboating underneath lift 5 all day long. If you do decide to size up a cliff for yourself, be sure you know where you are landing, and be even more certain to stomp it unless you want to hear the locals jeering from above. Cliffs ranging from 5 to 40 feet can be found in-bounds off of lifts 1 and 5.
Expert runs are short but definite leg-burners. Due to the high moisture content of the snow at Mount Baker, tracked out terrain quickly turns to moguls and cream cheese style snow, so choose your lines wisely and enjoy a true powder skiing mecca. Fat skis will certainly come in handy.
The in-bounds expert runs at Mount Baker are definitely world class, but where the mountain truly shines is in its backcountry. Baker ownership truly backs those venturing into the vast backcountry on Mount Baker and nearby Mount Shuksan, however they also place a clear emphasis on safety. In some of the most avalanche-prone slopes in America, it would be foolish to venture outside of the ropes without avalanche knowledge, a beacon, and likely a guide who knows the area well. If you complete that checklist, you will see exactly why this charming mountain brings skiers from all over the world to its terrain.
Lift accessed off piste terrain can be found by hiking above The Canyon near Gunners Bowl above lift 1 and 6. The Canyon is extremely avalanche prone, however, so the resort will close this area when it is dumping.
Access the Hemispheres and Shuksan Arm backcountry areas through gates near the top of lift 8. Access the Elbow backcountry area off of lift 5, but beware of dangerous unmarked cliffs in this small zone between the lift-accessed peaks. Access the Baker backcountry zone off the back of Panorama Dome at the top of lifts 1 and 6. Many runs in this area will require hiking. Expeditions to summit the 10,781ft also travel through this area.
For the truly adventurous air junkies, keep your eyes peeled above the snow banks as you near the mountain on Route 542. The famed Mount Baker Road Gap kicker can be found catapulting skiers and riders over 40 feet over the state highway. Only a short hike can bring you to this locale of cinema fame.
While the remote location of Mount Baker has led ownership to shy away from the typical on-mountain amenities, the two separate base areas of Mount Baker do offer food and drink. Skiers and riders can find typical buffet style fare in the White Salmon Lodge base area, the Heather Meadows Lodge area, and the on-mountain Raven Hot Café. The local Pacific Northwest Salmon Bisque is an author’s favorite, especially to help warm up on a cold and wet powder day. Small bars are also located inside the White Salmon and Raven Hot Café areas offering local Washington beer.
Note: The Heather Meadows base lodge area is only open on weekends and holidays throughout the season.
Mount Baker Ski Area is located deep in the Snoqualmie National Forest and does not have a village of any kind nearby. Shops, restaurants, bars, and hotels are scattered among the Mount Baker Highway, but the nearest town of significant size is Bellingham, Washington. Bellingham is home to Western Washington University and boasts a sizeable metro area with a number of exceptional restaurants and bars.
Considering the remote location of Mount Baker and the lack of nearby restaurants, many skiers and riders opt to cook their own meals at their place of lodging. While small restaurants and bars exist on the Mount Baker Highway, Bellingham offers a wide variety of hopping restaurants and watering holes. The Copper Hog is a phenomenal gastropub located in the heart of Bellingham in close proximity to other bars if their extensive beer and wine menu doesn’t get the job done. There are also a couple breweries in town; Chuckanut Brewery is a local favorite, and Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro has a nice offering of beer and local foods.
Alpinism is the name of the game at Mount Baker. If you are not into skiing or riding, however, ice climbing and winter hiking is available in the area though may need to be booked outside of the resort. Expeditions up the 10,781 ft Mount Baker last 2-5 days and often depart from the ski area parking lot. Mountaineering is also available on Mount Shuksan. If you aren’t the outdoor adventurer, don’t bother making the drive to the end of Route 542 during the winter months.