Winter Passing

Three Weeks Of Seasonal Dumpage At Washington’s Most Legendary Resort-Mt. Baker

It’s fast approaching 10:00 p.m. on the streets (or rather street) of Glacier, the tiny town at the base of Mt. Baker, deep in the Northern Washington woods. Two tire marks make black stripes in a few inches of fresh snow accumulated on the road since the plow last came through, and the sky is the kind of dark that only exists in the middle of nowhere. Your cell phone has no service. You’d like to meet up with some familiar faces, and so you venture to Graham’s, one of two buildings with the lights still on. As you push through the door, the smoke from the fireplace stings your eyes and some flannel-wearing locals playing pool look you up and down. One of them may or may not be Mike Ranquet. The bartender comes over and asks you, “Wuht’ll eht be?” The beer tastes good. Everything has a real solidness to it and seems nourishing somehow. It’s the raw, pure living of the mountains. You have entered the world of Mt. Baker.
As a resort, Mt. Baker is defined as much by what it isn’t as what it is. As the closest Washington resort to the Canadian border, with the nearest “city” the college town of Bellingham over an hour away, Baker is a little too remote to attract a giant clogging mess of tourists. The absence of any slopeside hotels or other traditional “resort amenities” probably helps this cause. And as far as snowboarding goes, the mountain has fostered more of a tight-knit family than an overblown scene. “There’s a sense of community but no real scene,” says longtime local Pat McCarthy. “Everyone knows everyone, and it feels like a big family. You’ll hit a cliff under the lift and hear the hoots but not have time to stop and see who it is.”
The warm family vibe is accented by a rough, aggressive edge, though. The challenging nature of the terrain and the rugged flavor of remote mountain living requires a dedication to the institution of snow and a real hunger to ride things fast, big, and dangerous. They didn’t call ’em the Mt. Baker Hardcores for nothing, you know. Like McCarthy says, “When there’s eighteen inches of new, you better be out the door by 6:00 a.m. if you’re planning on getting yours.”
And the “getting” of what’s “yours” at Mt. Baker is truly the stuff of legend-feeling the earth fall away from you as you bomb the treeless curve of Hemispheres; hiking the Shuksan Arm for a multi-faceted run of backcountry perfection that includes steeps, trees, and pillows; getting cliffed-out inbounds on your very first run of the morning and having to man up and just drop that son of a bitch; and the snow, the snow, the snow. Riding through a real Mt. Baker blizzard is a thing all its own. “When you’re up there and it’s snowing that hard, you feel like you’re in a different world,” says Baker warrior Mark Landvik. “You can hardly see what’s ahead of you unless it’s a tree. The wind is going off. Everyone is hiding underneath their layers trying to stay warm … ”
There’s not much more to say about the experience of riding this place beyond this: “Snowboarding all day by yourself in the powder. Randomly bumping into friends and sharing the day’s experiences. Riding every run you’ve been dying to hit up all season until your back leg feels so dead that all you can do is head for the lodge and some salmon bread bowls … it feels good just saying it,” sighs McCarthy. It feels good hearing it, too. Really, if you’ve tapped into the essence of Mt. Baker at least once in your life, then, my friends, you have lived.