2005 | Snowy, showy best

November 6, 2005 

Mount Baker averages 647 inches of snow per season. "It's like making the drive to the Gorge if you are a windsurfer," says ski area general manager Duncan Howatt." The people who make the drive are the ones who want the best powder and the fresh runs.

RUTGER GEERLING/MOUNT BAKER SKI AREA

Like everywhere else in Washington last season, Mount Baker had a sub-par snow year. Still, it got 439 inches, just 52 inches fewer than California’s Mammoth Mountain got in setting its all-time high.

Why does Baker always get good snow?

Location, location, location. When moisture-packed warm fronts funnel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, they are aimed right at Mount Baker. As it cools and is forced upward by Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, the snow dumps between the two, on the resort. General manager Duncan Howatt says he’s seen it snow on 40-degree days.

Ski and board experts picked the Legendary Banked Slalom as the state’s best event in The News Tribune’s survey. What’s this event all about?

The oldest snowboard race in the country turns 21 on Feb. 3-5 and will feature nearly 300 boarders. Depending on snow conditions, participants will race a slalom course as long as 3,000 vertical feet through a natural half-pipe. “Imagine having to hit gates up high on the half-pipe wall,” Howatt said. “Those guys are pulling two Gs.” More than 100 competitors are turned away each year, while the winner gets the Duct Tape Trophy.

While readers and pros generally love Baker, they aren’t big fans of the roads. How bad are the roads?

It’s slow going – 35 mph – as Highway 542 winds its way the final eight miles to the resort. On snowy days it’s even slower. But the road isn’t as dangerous as you might think. “The snow banks are so high, it’s like a bobsled run,” Howatt says. “You couldn’t slide off the road if you tried.”

Baker’s backcountry is very popular. What are some of the highlights?

From the top of the Hemispheres Chair you can strap your skis or board on your back and hike out for acres of untracked lines beneath Mount Shuksan. More backcountry waits on the other side of the resort. “With the right knowledge, you have easy access to some great vertical and powder,” Howatt said.

Baker is a 31/2-hour drive from the South Puget Sound area. Is it worth the trip?

“It’s like making the drive to the Gorge if you are windsurfer,” Howatt says. “The people who make the drive are the ones who want the best powder and fresh runs.”

WHAT’S NEW

Baker has added a winch cat to its grooming arsenal this year so it can groom the steeper slopes.

WHAT’S STILL NEW

Baker was open 117 days last year, so the new $1.8 million Chair 6 lift to the top of Panorama Dome is somewhat broken in. Baker also beefed up its terrain park with some new rails and spent $250,000 on grooming equipment.

SURVEY SAYS

 • Best Snow: Pros, TNT

 • Best Event (Legendary Banked Slalom): Pros, TNT

 • Worst Roads: Unanimous

 • Best Parking: TNT

GOING ‘PLATINUM’

On Nov. 18, Seattle-based Fly Spot Pictures will premiere its new movie, “Platinum,” about the Legendary Banked Slalom, the nation’s oldest snowboard race. You can watch the six-minute trailer for the movie at platinumthemovie.com.

RESORT STATS

Mount Baker Ski Area

Lift tickets: $40.50 general, $30.50 youth (7-15), $34.50 seniors (60-69), $13.49 super seniors (70 and older), children 6 and younger are free. Fifth-graders also can register online to ski free.

Season pass: $656 general, $590 full-time college student, $495 young adult (16-17), $302 youth (13-15), $175 children (7-12); $260 senior (60-69), $25 super seniors (70 and older)

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Terrain: 1,000 acres serviced by lifts including a half pipe and a terrain park

Lifts: Nine (four fixed quad chairs, three doubles, two rope tows)

Summit elevation: 5,050 feet

Base elevation: 4,300 feet main base; 3,590 feet lower base

Vertical drop: 1,460 feet

Annual snowfall: 647 inches

Cross-country: Four kilometers and backcountry trails

More info: 360-734-6771; snowline, 206-671-0211; mtbaker.us

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