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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Mount Baker enjoys epic early season weekend

Everything to know about last weekend on Mount Baker via the eyes of community members

Skiers waiting at extensive lift lines on Sunday, Jan 12. // Photo by Connor Benintendi.

By Connor J. Benintendi

Mount Baker received its share of snow this weekend, totaling nearly three and a half feet of fresh powder by the end of Sunday. With the looming possibility of Bellingham receiving its second Snowmageddon in as many years, members of the community and Western students made a trip to the slopes to enjoy what was anticipated to be a wild weekend of heavy snowfall.

According to Mt. Baker Ski Area’s website, upwards of 36 inches of snowfall were expected on the slopes from Friday through Sunday. However, the snow report on Jan. 12, reported as much as 42 inches by the time the weekend was over. With such heavy accumulation, the mountain’s snow base increased to 119 inches at low elevations like Heather Meadows (4,300 feet) and 154 inches at high elevations including Pan Dome (5,000 feet).

Naturally, many ski and snowboard enthusiasts in the area had a similar idea.

“I’d say that [Saturday] was the busiest I’ve ever seen the mountain,” Western student Savannah Hoffman said. “The parking lots were incredibly full and there were pretty long lines at the lifts, which I haven’t seen at [Mount] Baker in a long time.”

Hoffman said that didn’t stand in the way of her enjoying all the fresh snowfall.

“The conditions [Saturday] were amazing,” Hoffman said. “It felt like we had fresh tracks every run with how much it was snowing all day. The powder was deep; the snow was coming down and we couldn’t stop smiling.”

With a vast mountain nearby and plenty of fresh powder, Mount Baker can appeal to skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Western sophomore Katryna Garza strapped on a pair of skis for the first time as she ventured to Baker’s powdered slopes on Sunday.

“For someone’s first time, it was kind of eventful,” Garza said. “It was a good weekend. There were some parts of the mountain that were more thick in snow than others, so I got stuck a few times, which for someone new I think is typical.”

Garza said she stayed where the snow was more plentiful and always had help around her to make her experience enjoyable.

“There were a lot of people there who were helping me,” she said. “I got a lot of help learning, besides just my friends. It was a good community and everyone there was just really nice.”

Bellingham native and former Western student Noah Rawls has been visiting Mount Baker since he was seven and shared mostly the same sentiment.

“They got a ton [of snow],” Rawls said. “I would say the snow quality was pretty good. It wasn’t wet or anything and it stayed, like, throughout the day, it’s not like it depleted at all.”

According to Rawls, though, lift lines weren’t any shorter on Sunday than the day prior.

“It was packed,” Rawls said. “We were at the upper lodge but it was basically packed all the way around.We had to park kind of down by the lake and hike out.

Despite minor wind at higher elevations, Rawls said Sunday’s conditions were preferable.

“It was snowing from the moment we got there and I would say they probably got about six or seven inches [of snow] while we were there.”

All regions of the mountain were open throughout the weekend as snow kept piling up, meaning that skiers and snowboarders could enjoy all that Mt. Baker’s Ski Area had to offer; not to mention the above-average conditions.

The often unfortunate byproduct of heavy snowfall in the mountains means that as more people want in on the fun, danger increases. When so much snow is being dumped onto the roads in such a short time, it can be difficult for maintenance and snow plow crews to keep up. In turn drivers see much more treacherous transportation conditions on the way up to the ski area. Garza said that chains were heavily recommended on Sunday and, according to Washington State Department of Transportation’s website, that was the case most of the weekend.

Due to the heavy snowfall, the mtbaker.us website also has a high avalanche advisory posted courtesy of Northwest Avalanche Center, as well as a deep snow and tree well advisory. A tree well is the area under a tree’s branches that doesn’t receive as much snow, forming a deep trap-like drop as the mountain’s snow base gets larger. Large amounts of snow in a tight window of time increases the risk of deadly avalanche, as well as the depth of tree wells.

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