Powder Season Recap – Mount Baker

Story by Leif Whittaker
Photos by Freya Fennwood 
Skiers and snowboarders from across the globe know about Mount Baker Ski Area for one reason: lots of snow. In 1999 Mount Baker received 1,140 inches of snow, setting the single-season world record for snowfall. Baker averages 643 inches of snowfall per year, more than any other lift-serviced ski area in North America. In other words, Baker gets deep. In the fall of 2012 my girlfriend Freya and I moved to Bellingham, Washington in search of the bottomless white fluff. What we found was a mountain replete with possibilities, a continually replenished canvas begging to be painted with imaginative lines.
Mount Baker
Leif Whittaker throwing up a powder cloud.
Adam U slashes a steep face.
Powder stash in Swift Creek.
Mount Baker is not called a “resort” because it does not offer much in the way of après ski venues, on-mountain housing, or expensive boutiques. It has slow lifts, short runs, and a small overall area, at least inside the boundaries. Grooming is a low priority and visibility is often nil. A local’s hill through and through, I experienced a vibe tinged with resentfulness the first time I skied there, as if the longtime pass-holders hated any newcomers. It was intimidating and I didn’t understand this attitude because, it seemed to me, there was plenty of snow for everyone. However, after skiing for a full season on Mount Baker’s steep and forgiving slopes, I have learned to ignore its detractors. To truly appreciate Mount Baker, one needs to embrace the downsides.
Low visibility equates to massive snowfall. The runs may be short, but they are steep and challenging. The in-bounds area is small, but the sidecountry and backcountry terrain is truly limitless. Most importantly, never in my life have I skied deeper or more playful snow.
Jennica Lowell on Shuksan Arm.
Lily Hickenbottom rides a ridge.
Tess Golling blows it up.
Tess Golling splashes the camera.
Leif Whittaker laying down on the slope.
Admittedly, I am not the most skilled or aggressive skier in the world, but as the old saying goes, the best skier is the one who is having the most fun. Between November and April, Freya and I got to know hidden powder pockets, narrow chutes, and wide-open fields. One day, we waited in line for an hour to get the tenth chair on a lift that had been closed for two days and had received more than 38 inches of fresh powder. Another day, we hiked the famous Shuksan Arm an hour before sunset and skied an untouched bowl in golden light. When we returned to the lodge we discovered that our car was the last in the parking lot. Freya and I even planned a three-day tour to Mount Ann, but when my binding snapped in half 20-minutes outside camp, we cut the trip short. However, we got a glimpse of the potential and, next year, we’ll make the same trip count.
Snowfall from tree branches.
Skinning towards Lake Ann.
Trying to fix bindings and taking a few turns at night.
One more powder cloud.

I often hear friends complain about the dark and rainy winters in Washington State. When I look out the window of my apartment in Bellingham and see the heavy drops pounding the ground all I can think about is how much snow is falling on Mount Baker. Winters are not only bearable; they are something to look forward to. Even in the hot and sunny summer I often imagine myself floating through powder. It is a feeling unlike anything else—clean, expressive, and fun.

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