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Thursday, June 4, 2020

BACKCOUNTRY SKIING TIPS

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Northern view just below the peak of Mount Herman. //Photo by Trevor Dickie 

How often are days at the ski resort filled only with fresh tracks and untouched powder? In the backcountry, that’s the description of most days, though the days are never without risk.

Mount Baker Ski Area had a snow-base of 101 inches at the Heather Meadows base area at the end of the first week in January and more snow is coming down. The early season skiing and snowboarding has been as good as anyone could ask for.

The resort is well known for its deep snow and powder-filled days, but the backcountry areas around the ski resort are less traveled and often have more snow than the resort itself. This means more fresh tracks and powder turns, sometimes stretching days after the last snowfall.

To access backcountry areas, continue along the highway past the left turn into the main parking/lodge, and stay right into a parking lot past the Heather Meadows base area. The lot is overflow parking for resort-goers and other visitors.

With proper knowledge, training and equipment, the backcountry can be a playground for any willing skier or snowboarder.

Trevor Dickie 

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The south side of Mount Herman. // Photo by Trevor Dickie 

 

If you go touring for your first time at Mount Baker, do not go alone. Make sure both you and your partner have the correct safety gear. If neither of you have experience with the area in the winter, find someone to tour with who is experienced. It is extremely unsafe to go into foreign areas in the backcountry without guidance.

Since there are no chairlifts, most the day will be spent going up the mountain. The first days touring in a season may be tough, with only a small number of laps being made.

Someone in good touring shape could potentially ski two or three times as many runs as someone who isn’t as prepared for the trek.

On my most recent trip, I was heading up on my second lap and was passed by someone two times on a single ascent. He skied seven runs that day, I skied two.

With proper knowledge, training and equipment, the backcountry can be a playground for any willing skier or snowboarder.

Safety equipment, avalanche education, training and safety gear is very important for anyone entering the backcountry. Between Dec. 10  and Jan. 5, six avalanche deaths occurred around the United States, according to avalanche.org.

In Bellingham, both the American Alpine Institute, and the Mt. Baker Mountain Guides offer avalanche education courses throughout winter and into spring.

The classes will require you either own or rent the important equipment, including an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel. If someone gets buried in an avalanche, these are needed to locate and dig the buried member out.

Don’t let the potential dangers scare you off. Backcountry skiing is a great way to access some of the best runs you will ever encounter on the slopes.

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