By Amy and Gwyn Howat
The winter of 1998/1999 at Mt. Baker, Washington was not defined by only oneor two memorable moments, it was the sum of many things that literally put it in the record books. Theimmense accumulation of snowpack, seemingly endless storms, and a series of incredible events made aseason that, unless you were there to see it, could only be imagine. Here’s a glimpse into what the residentsand visitors of Mt. Baker experienced between November 1998 and May 1999. On May 12, two inches of snow fell, bringing the total for the season to 1,124 inches-93.8 feet, a new”unofficial” world snowfall record. That’s enough to bury the Statue of Liberty, all except her hand with thetorch.
It snowed for 35 days straight between mid November and mid December. One in every three daysduring the entire season was a powder day with over ten inches of fresh. The groomers wore out threesnowcats just digging out the chairlifts and moving snow. The resort received 102 inches of fresh during its first week open. The first month of the season was so epic, film crews and pro boarders flew in from around NorthAmerica, and even as far away as London.
There was so much snow that resort employees began to design snow-melting machines rather thansnow-making machines. Large Douglas firs snapped in half from the weight of all the snow. Backhoes had to take the tops off of thesnowbanks along the road so they wouldn’t tunnel over. Season-pass sales hit record numbers, 70 percent of which were bought by snowboarders. And the resortsold the most goggles in its 46-year history.
Eighty-mile-per-hour winds forced the closure of the resort to the public the first day of the BankedSlalom. But the pros and masters hiked into the racecourse for their first qualifying run-in 50 mph winds and23 inches of fresh. Nineteen-and-a-half feet of snow fell between January 28 and February 11. There were only two days inFebruary that it didn’t snow.
For the first time in history, the ski area cried uncle and shut down for two days just to dig out. The backcountry became lethal, and stricter policies for entering the backcountry were enforced. In March, a six-foot extension was added to the existing 300-inch base. The pack on the ground near thelodge had already topped out at 318 inches.
Baker locals experienced an unfathomable amount of snow, lived in it, snowboarded in it, worked, skied,moved, slogged, and pushed it. They became frustrated by it, loved it, hated it and marveled at it. But mostof all, they just couldn’t quite believe it.
Gwyn is the marketing director and business office-manager at Mt. Baker Ski Area, and her younger sister Amy is the marketing assistant, among other things. The two women grew up charging at Mt. Baker, but have never seen more snow than last season.