The Mt Baker ski area has avalanches of hype associated with it. Not the sort of hype that the bells and whistles resorts like Vail and Whistler get, but more of a cult following from gnarly dudes due to the snow, extreme inbounds terrain and huge accessible backcountry.
In the snow quantity department Mt Baker Washington is unbeatable. The amazing 15 year average of 701 inches (17.8 metres) of snowfall per season is definitely nothing to be sneezed. However Mount Baker has a relatively coastal location and low elevation (only 1,551 m at the top, 733 metres lower than Whistler), which isn’t a plus for the snow quality. The snow quality down low can deteriorate quickly and it does rain more often than the ski hill operators would care to admit. On the upside, Mt Baker ski area won’t have you gasping for breath like in Colorado or Gulmarg Kashmir
, and you won’t have to wonder where your manhood has disappeared to, or your nipples won’t be ratcheting up like in the biting cold of Alberta or ……..Colorado.
So how does Mt Baker stack up against all the hype? Well in some departments its stacks up well, in others it doesn’t stack up at all. Let us explain. Baker is all about a few things: lots (and I mean lots) of snow, much more than most other lift serviced ski resorts in the world; great steeps and natural terrain features; plus awesome backcountry. However the devil is in the detail, and whilst regular dumps of snow, great expert terrain and bountiful backcountry ticks some important boxes, when one marries those things to a small lift serviced area, huge numbers of skiers on powder days, a questionable vibe from some of the locals, a low elevation and high moisture content snow, and poor intermediate terrain - there are some doubts. Whilst we ski around the world to sup on as much powder as we can, skiing a legendary hill for only an hour before all the inbounds terrain is completely and utterly tracked out raises some serious questions about Mt Baker being a destination for out of state and international snow riders. I can hear the locals rejoicing! I’m sure they want THEIR hill back!
Mt Baker Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Whilst it packs a lot in, Mount Baker Washington is only a smallish ski resort with 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of terrain and a vertical drop of only 484 metres (1,588 feet). The Mt Baker ski area has 10 lifts, of which 8 are slow quad chairs.
The terrain is mostly below the treeline and very challenging. Beginners are surprisingly well catered for with a free handle tow and reasonable progressions, whilst for intermediates there are only some rolly poly interrupted fall line runs with limited appeal. Go to Whistler Blackcomb
– yikes can’t believe I just wrote that!
It is an expert’s mountain and it’s in the gnarly inbounds terrain department that Mt Baker excels. You don’t come here to ski groomers, it’s all about powder, hits, steeps, trees, chutes and cliffs – lots of them if you want them, can pucker up, and if you know where you’re going. And with wet and abundant snow, even the steepest, gnarliest, craggiest terrain has snow stuck to it, so you can actually ride it.
Backcountry terrain at Baker is boundless and is the real reason to visit. Watch the avi forecast, heed the warnings, and don your safety gear.
Mt Baker Snow
Mount Baker snow is deep and coastal. Fresh snow at Mt Baker has high percentage water content and due to the elevation, the snow quality is likely to deteriorate quite rapidly through the day (if it’s not still snowing that is). And only a few degrees makes the difference between pow and slush or r***.
Baker doesn’t get as much of the dry cold smoke of ski resorts further inland. That said, powder is powder, face shots are face shots, and if you prefer super dry powder go skiing in Utah
, the Baker die-hard locals will thank you for it!
Mt Baker is supposed to have a reputation for minimal crowds (although that rep is probably relative to some of the crazy busy North American resorts). So how is it that on the day the Powderhounds finally got around to skiing the legendary Mt Baker, that with a foot of fresh on the ground, every skier between Vancouver and Seattle decided to make the pilgrimage as well?? It felt like Vail on Presidents weekend but without the 5,000 acres and 30 lifts to spread the punters out. Mt Baker got tracked out in-bounds within about 30 minutes and let’s just say that you don’t travel to Baker to ski tracked snow!
Mt Baker can get absolutely smashed on a powder day on weekends. Weekdays are an entirely different matter when its uncrowded rep is very deserved. In essence, to get the goods you MUST get up early for first lifts, avoid weekends, and head straight to chair 5 and 6.
Where is Mt Baker Washington?
Mt Baker ski area is located in the northwest corner of Washington State at the end of State Route 542, the Mt Baker Highway. Located in the Northern Cascades, the Mt Baker ski area is technically not actually situated on the big volcano of Mt Baker, but rather on a dinky little hill on Mt Baker’s flanks.
The ski area is 53 miles east of Bellingham (1:15 hours), 134 miles northeast of Seattle (2.5 hours), and 86 miles southeast of Vancouver BC (2 hours drive).
There is a bus service that runs around the Whatcom County, but you really need a car to get around.
Mt Baker Lodging
If you adore ski-in ski-out lodging and love to strut around a ski resort village with your bling bling goggles on, Mt Baker is not the place for you. I guess you could wear the crystal encrusted goggles (if you want those scary locals to leer at you), but there is no-mountain accommodation.
Mt Baker lodging
is available in the little sleepy town of Glacier (population 211!), 17 miles away from Mt Baker ski resort. Maple Falls, 26 miles west of Baker, is a fraction larger and has a few more amenities. Between the two towns is the best place to stay when visiting Baker, the Inn at Mt Baker
. This fine bed and breakfast establishment has great views overlooking a valley to the mighty Mt Baker massif (not that you’re likely to see it very often during winter!), nice accommodation, an outdoor hot tub, and a superb breakfast.
Otherwise Bellingham isn’t too far away (1:15 hours) and it offers a large range of lodging options.
Ski Resort Facilities
Mt Baker is a somewhat minimalist ski area, with no day spas, glitzy shops or sleigh rides, which is part of the attraction for many of the locals. Baker definitely isn’t a heavily commercialized resort, but that’s not to say that isn’t doesn’t have some fabulous amenities including day lodges that serve up great fare.
Summary of Pros and Cons
- Phenomenal expert terrain in-bounds, and plenty more gems to be found in the backcountry.
- A Mt Baker experience is delightfully inexpensive (especially mid-week) and lodging nearby provides great value for money.
- Lots of powder days and big snow volumes.
- With the exception of weekend powder days, Mt Baker is generally not crowded.
Pro or Con Depending on Your Perspective
- Small ski area (in-bounds) that can get tracked out super quickly on a powder day.
- Slow chair lifts, although this seems to be an acceptable trade-off considering all the snow.
- There are some groomers for beginners and intermediates, but if you like to mostly ski on groomed runs, Mt Baker is not the hill for you.
- No on-mountain accommodation, negligible nightlife nearby, and minimal shops, cell phone service or internet access
- Mt Baker has a cult-like following, particularly amongst snowboarders. The devotees almost worship the place and there’s a bit of a “too cool for school” vibe about the place. There are some incredibly talented riders….but they know it.
- Don’t expect lots of nice weather days. That massive amount of snow doesn’t fall from blue skies and white-outs are not uncommon.