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Monday, July 6, 2020

Mount Baker for beginners

A guide to conquering Bellingham’s most popular winter sport attraction

Mount Baker Ski Area on Jan. 18, 2018. // Photo By Wilson Turk

By Connor J. Benintendi

When learning how to ski or snowboard, it’s important to keep safety in mind. For those in Bellingham looking to try their hand at a snow sport and in need of some helpful guidance, start here.

Reliable transportation should be a priority. The varying conditions can cause the road to become unsafe without the proper vehicle, according to Brianna Clark, third-year Western student and experienced Mount Baker skier.

“I’ve seen quite a few cars get stuck,” Clark said. “It’s a two-lane, steep, windy road that is not in your favor if you do get stuck.”

Once at the mountain, understanding the parking areas are based on skill level will save a lot of time, according to Clark. The Mount Baker Ski Area has two different base areas, Heather Meadows and White Salmon. Heather Meadows rests at around 4,300 feet above sea level, while White Salmon is about 3,500 feet, according to Mount Baker’s website.

In addition, always bring a buddy for safety reasons. Christina Funk, a former Mount Baker employee and former Western student said that while there is a lot to explore, it’s easy to get lost when so much of the surroundings are unfamiliar and the mountain is so complex.

“Read signs and don’t follow random tracks, as you might end up in terrain you can’t handle,” Ian Ingoglia, Western graduate and former Mount Baker employee, said. “Bring extra gloves and layers. Be ready for rain and getting really cold.”

The majority of beginner runs are grouped near Heather Meadows. Parking there allows the easiest access to Mount Baker’s starter skiing.

“If you’re brand new and it’s the weekend, definitely head up to Heather Meadows,” Clark said. “Heather Meadows is only open on the weekends and is more equipped for beginners or people who have been riding for years.”

Funk had a similar recommendation, as Heather Meadows is home to the rope tow. A rope tow is a transportation method that uses a pulley system, instead of a chairlift, making it easier to get to the top beginner runs without the fear of dismounting a lift.

After spending time there, Funk said the next step isn’t too far away from that area.

“[Chairlift] two is the most commonly used chairlift at [Mount] Baker for learning, as it primarily serves green-level terrain,” Funk said.

Green terrain is specifically outfitted for beginners, and is most likely where individuals who are brand new will want to be until they become more comfortable. Blue terrain is considered intermediate and black is for experts. According to Clark, chairlift seven at the White Salmon base area is a great follow-up, as it’s a touch steeper.

“This is also a great next step because you can go down a short area that’s marked as blue and see how you’re feeling about that before you venture further,” Clark said. “You can still make it a full green run if you look at it and decide you’re not ready for something steeper.”

Most of the mountain is based from the White Salmon area, so there’s more freedom once you’re comfortable enough with slightly more difficult terrain, according to Clark.

“I think a small thing that people tend to be unaware of when going to [Mount] Baker at first is some of the initial hills on the beginner chairs start off with a steeper hill that you wouldn’t expect, which can be very intimidating if you’re just starting out,” Clark said.

Despite this, both Clark and Funk said they’d recommend Mount Baker to anyone just getting started with any snow sport. However, they both pointed out that it won’t be easy.

“[Mount] Baker is such an amazing place to learn and practice skiing and boarding because the terrain gets increasingly difficult fairly quickly from the beginner lifts to the more advanced runs,” Funk said. “If you’re able to ski the entirety of [Mount] Baker, you should be able to ski anywhere in the world.”

Mount Baker offers a “Best for Beginners” instruction course, tailored specifically for those who are new to mountain environments, according to mtbaker.us.

Snow covered Bagley lakes at Heather Meadows by the Mount Baker Ski Area on Jan. 18, 2018. // Photo By Wilson Turk

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