In the Northwest woods lies a cabin that's got more stories than those who have slept on its beds, couches and floors. This log dojo is a few turns off a winding highway; at the end of that road is a ski area that may be the greatest in all the world, if what you're after is snowboarding in its stripped-down form. You see, Mt. Baker isn't like most resorts these days, subsidizing valet parking with $14 slices of cardboard pizza. It's real as they come, steep, wet, owned by snowboarders, and full of opportunities to get yourself in a pickle if you're not careful. Just outside its boundary lines lies sidecountry terrain that's downright unparalleled, and inbounds is a course that comes to life once a year, drawing snowboarders from across the globe to its banks, bumps, and berms.
And when this crowd descends on the pristine shoulders of Shuksan, each evening they find their way down to the little town where Pat's cabin lies. This group in particular, in a white Dodge pickup, cab packed to the gills, bed filled boards and brewdawgees, as Pat himself would say. Brewdawgees can also become Brewdawglers.
Each evening, boots, gloves, and outerwear gather around the wood stove to dry for the next day. Brent’s boot with a reminder. PHOTO: Erik Hoffman
This cabin is an oasis. There's no cell service, no WiFi, and no cable, just a shelf full of games--dominos, UNO, and one full of riddles that'll make your head spin. Tricky bastards who came up with that one.
When you're here, Pat's in charge. That's why they call him the Sarge. They also call him Chef Boardin' Gordon Ramsay, which gets shortened to Boardin' Gordon, and ultimately Gord, Gord has his own way of cooking things that hinges on his trusty "skittle grillet" as he once called it. But I think he meant "griddle skillet". Whatever the red cooking device is called, in it Pat combines all the ingredients and somehow 10 minutes later, food is served, with a brewdawgler on the side. Those come from the fridge, not the skittle grillet.
The cabin brings folks from afar. Our rig breaks down on the way, and after catching a ride, I show up at a dark and drizzly midnight to a crew that's come from Quebec, British Columbia, California, Colorado, and down the road, to take a few days off. From pretty much everything. You drop your responsibilities with your bags. Your iPhone's not going to ring; emails aren't comin' through either.
Some are here to put down fast times, some came to set fresh bootpacks, most to do both. Early to bed, early to rise is the program around here, and I don't see most people's faces until 6 am, when I emerge from the patch of available floor space I've located beneath the kitchen table.
"The weekends warriors at Baker are better than some pros. You look left, you look right, there's something to jump off, something to point. It's such a cool mountain. And in town there's no cell service and hardly any WiFi. I haven't used my phone since I've been here. No weather, no Instagram, no emails." -- Matt Wainhouse PHOTO: Erik Hoffman
Pat puts a log on the fire to start the day and into the skittle grillet goes 10 hashrown patties, 20 strips of bacon, a dozen eggs, and a handful of cheese. Out comes breakfast. Meanwhile, Matt Wainhouse has blended healthier ingredients into smoothies for the crew. Coffee consumed, we load the rig with boards and brewdawglers and head up the highway. Turns out, Pat McCarthy may be the 12th Man you always hear about in Washington.
He's got a heck of a Hawks hat and a fast pair of shades to match. We decide on the drive that it's logical decision for him to race in this get-up. We rip laps and remember why plenty of length and a couple inches of setback are necessary here. Of course, Phil Jacques qualifies for finals. The guy's coming off a first-place finish at Dirksen Derby and second place at Double Tap.
When we get back to the cabin, we decide to celebrate. Everyone except the reason we're celebrating. Having traveled from Austria to get here, Phil falls asleep by 5 pm, wakes up at 7 pm, panics that he's slept for 14 hours, realizes it's only been two, then falls asleep for twelve more. Meanwhile, we find ourselves at the snowboard shop down the road, and with Mike West leading the charge, ultimately at the bar.
Good times are known to occur when Mike West comes to town. PHOTO: Taylor Boyd
A well-rested Phil greets the sleepy partygoers, a log lands in the stove, and seven or so ingredients sizzle in the skittle grillet. We need to get Wainhouse and Brett Esser to the hill to qualify, so the crew quickly piles into the rig and McCarthy changes head attire four times on the way to the mountain. Those with racing obligations make their way to the course while the rest of the crew starts hiking out onto the Arm--one foot in front of the other until we're atop the most awe-inspiring terrain you'll see within a walk from a chairlift in the lower 48.
Morning view. PHOTO: Taylor Boyd
"It's just a sleepy place with a bunch of locals that rip. It doesn't have that tourist vibe that some resorts do or $180 lift tickets. Everyone's just rippin' fast, and turnin' hard." -- Tyler Ravelle PHOTO: Erik Hoffman
The rest of the day is a cycle of sweating uphill and slashing down, until we ultimately end up at Pat's rig for CL smooths in the lot. Down at the cabin, the group splits into two once again. While the majority decides in favor of a casual night with heated UNO, Brent and I finding ourselves on a misty walk to the bar.
“This place is always pretty magical in a sense, just to come here with Pat at his cabin and spend quality time, and it's always great. Just to have this guy show us around the mountain is so cool. He knows it so well.” -- Phil Jacques PHOTO: Taylor Boyd
Here, you don't call people to ask their plans; you just show up and hang with whoever's there. On this particular night, the place is packed with friends, one of which gifts us a cake, and another some time traveling supplies. At the strike of 3, we decide it's time to make our way home from the cabin we've found ourselves at as spectators of latenight pool games, and I assume my position on the floor below the kitchen table.
Forest putting on a QP clinic during the salmon bake. Look for the footage via FSBS. PHOTO: Erik Hoffman
The fire and skittle grillet crackle simultaneously, while coffee brews. I'm searching high and low for the time-traveling supplies but can't find them anywhere. Brent convinces the crew that we'll drive the route we walked the night before. Lo and behold, there they are in the middle of road, and Pat and I enter the vortex.
In eight hours, the best case scenario would be for Phil to be on the podium and us to be worn out from a day of hiking laps on the Arm, and that's exactly where we find ourselves. The energy in the lodge is always electric during the LBS awards ceremony, and the place roars when Phil's third place is finish is announced. First time racing at Baker and he beats everybody but two people--one of which deserves his first place finish more than anyone. Congrats, Dirksen!
The rig is packed as we head down the hill--Pat in the back with two unnamed snoozers and up front, Brent sandwiched between myself in the passenger seat and Erik at the wheel. Presumably feeling left out, Pat yells, "They're sleepin' back here; I'm comin' up front to party!" And for the next 25 minutes, Pat's head is on the dashboard while the rest of him rests in my lap and Outkast blasts through the speakers.
In ecstatic delirium we convene at the cabin and decide to hit Graham's for some suds and sustenance. We've got a reason to celebrate. By the time we get back to the cabin, Brett has managed to fall asleep in the truck again. We get him inside where he finds the couch and the crew finds the rest of the objects in the living room to place on top of him.
The escape must come to an end. Rigs are packed to head back to cell service in separate directions, but I decide to outrun the anxiety of the real world a little longer and hitch a ride to the mountain for a few more laps and manage to find a ride back to a major metropolitan area later that day.
The champ. PHOTO: Erik Hoffman
There's a readjustment period that comes when you live in a state of non-electronically interrupted bliss and have to return to inevitable obligations, which leaves me wondering... Pat, when can we head back to cabin?