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Backcountry Essentials’ Whatcom County Snow Sports Guide

We met with Chris Gerston of Backcountry Essentials for fresh tips to make the most of the Mount Baker snow season. See the best places, times, and pointers for skiing, mountain biking, ice climbing, and more in the Mount Baker area.

Mount Baker Winter Sports Guide

Mount Baker.jpg

When to Ski

The Mt. Baker ski area historically gets as much snow, if not more, than any ski area in the country, and holds the world record for most snow in a single season. But like any weather-dependent recreation region, the Mt. Baker area has  ups and downs that aren’t really very easy to predict. We seem to get about a two-week period of high pressure midwinter, but this can hit any time between mid-January to mid-February.

If skiing powder is your thing, the best times to ski are in the mornings after a fresh snowfall. The powder is light and fluffy, making excellent terrain for gliding down hills. The view is breathtaking on mornings like this, as the world transforms into a winter wonderland.

There are also advantages to planning ski trips in the early spring before the snow melts. After a winter of heavy snowfall, the ground is packed and sturdy, making it possible to traverse a larger area on skis. The days grow longer in the springtime, allowing for more extended outings.

What to Bring

Basic supplies:

  • Ski boots, poles, and skis

  • Goggles

  • Helmet

  • Warm base-layer

  • Mid-layer

  • Ski jacket

  • Ski pants

  • Gloves

  • Down jacket

  • Full set of dry clothes

  • Warm boots or slippers to change into

  • Smartphone or camera

  • Protein-rich snacks

For backcountry:

  • Ski pack

  • Transceiver

  • Skins

  • Shovel

  • Probe

  • Sunglasses

  • A buddy

  • Safety skills & knowledge

If you’re missing items on your checklist, you can rent anything you need at Backcountry Essentials. Avalanche gear is available to those who can demonstrate how to use it. Tired of soggy boots the next morning? Stay at the Heliotrope Hotel and grab a boot dryer off the shelf. Spend less time waiting and more time out in the snow.

Get back out there faster with a boot dryer.

Get back out there faster with a boot dryer.

For Beginners and Learners

With or without prior training, anyone can enjoy a day on snowshoes or cross-country skis. The whole family can pick out one or the other and go for a hike together. While snowshoes are easy to get used to, skis can be frustrating for young learners.

To learn the downhill skiing basics, head to the Mount Baker Ski Area and sign up for same-day lessons (first come, first served). Skiers ready for the next level can sign up for private lessons or practice on the slopes.

If you already know how to ski but don’t feel ready to head out on your own, consider a guided ski tour.

For the Pros

Mt. Baker Ski Area sidecountry (AKA out of bounds or slackcountry) is open to everyone who is prepared and equipped to handle unpredictable wilderness conditions. After fresh snow, there are unexplored wildlands as far as the eye can see. As Chris of Backcountry Essentials says, “Even if it’s only for a lap or two, I’ll want to go to the backcountry if I can slip away while my family eats lunch.”

Note: Avalanches happen. It’s essential to take an avalanche training course and learn how to use the equipment.

For Winter Sports Lovers

There is more than just Mount Baker for the winter sports lovers around here.

By far, the best mountain biking in the area is Galbraith Mountain. It’s possible to spend all day on the slopes and never repeat a trail. Galbraith is also a great spot for adventurous trail runners and hikers.

Need more of calmer hiking spot without as many mountain bikers around? Be sure to check out Chuckanut Mountains. You can find amazing trails on the mountain and some along the water near Larrabee State Park.

For ice climbing, the pros recommend Pan Dome Falls for the challenging and satisfying ascent.

For Hungry People

Bellingham has a great assortment of restaurants, especially brew pubs - Bellingham likes its beer. His stops include Menace and Kulshan breweries for beers, or Boundary Bay or Aslan, especially if you’re looking for delicious food to pair with your beer. If cider is more your thing, check out Lost Giants.

If you need something before heading to the mountain, hit Black Drop or Camber for coffee and Old Town Cafe to fill up on a protein-packed breakfast.

After a day in the snow, you will want nothing more than a hot shower and a warm bed. Visiting from out of town? Find your respite at The Heliotrope Hotel. No check-in hassle, just type in your room code and come in from the cold. When you take off for the day, grab your 15% off coupon to Backcountry Essentials at the front desk.

Dylan Green