Lack of reservation system creates long lines, COVID-19 concerns
UPDATE: The Mount Baker Ski Area media team did not respond to interview requests prior to publication and employees denied requests, citing their employee handbook. Mount Baker Ski Area subsequently has offered information about its safety protocols. This story has been updated to include the new information.
Most ski resorts in Washington state implemented new rules and policies before opening this season to limit the spread of COVID-19 on the mountains. Mount Baker Ski Area has not taken all of the same precautions, causing the resort to become overrun.
At all ski resorts in Washington, it is required that visitors wear a mask and remain six feet apart, following the Washington State Department of Health’s statewide order.
Crystal Mountain Resort opened Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, requiring reservations to go to the mountain, alongside a season pass. Mount Baker Ski Area opened Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, only restricting non-passholders until that Sunday, Nov. 22. Stevens Pass opened Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.
Vail Resorts, the parent company of Stevens Pass, required reservations to go to the mountain, season passholder or not.
The Mount Baker Ski Area limited the number of season passes sold this year, reaching their limit and cutting off pass sales on Dec. 15, 2020.
Duncan Howat, president of Mount Baker Ski Area, said the resort has limited guests to their cars while not riding on the resort. Employees in the lift lines are also reminding guests to pull up their masks and keep 6 feet of distance from other guests, he said.
“Also, we have not been seeing the carpooling of past years because of [COVID-19], so on weekends parking lots tend to fill up with cars, but with less people,” Howat said.
Howat did not reply when asked about the total number of passes sold.
Mount Baker has not limited daily pass sales or required reservations for anyone to ski or snowboard at the mountain, except for limiting the mountain to passholders the first two days they were open.
“I’ve never seen so many people waiting in line for the chairlifts to open,” said Jordan Starry, a 24-year-old snowboarder from Washington. “On weekends there are easily over 200 people waiting at each chairlift.”
Starry said he has gone to Mount Baker to snowboard more than 50 times this season.
“On the weekdays the resort is empty, but on the weekends the resort and parking lot are absolutely slammed,” Starry said.
Mt. Baker closed their lodges to regular use, and are exclusively for take-out food and restroom use.
As of Feb. 15, there have been a total of 6,167 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 80 deaths in Whatcom County, according to the Whatcom County website.
Dr. Paul Pottinger, who specializes in infectious diseases at the University of Washington, said he is not worried about COVID-19 spreading inside the boundaries of Mount Baker.
“I actually have very little concern about transmission on the mountain,” Pottinger said. “By far, my greatest concern is about transmission to and from the mountain: When you drive there, who is in the car with you? Do you know their status?”
Convenience plays a huge role, as skiers and snowboarders from around Washington may not mind making the long drive to Mount Baker as a reservation is not needed.
Blake Hepner is someone who enjoys the convenience of Mount Baker.
Hepner, a 20-year-old who lives in Carnation, Washington, is currently trying to become a professional skier.
“I usually ski at Stevens Pass, but since they require reservations to ski, I’ve made a bunch of trips up to Mount Baker this season,” Hepner said “It’s not that far from Carnation, so it’s a pretty easy decision to drive a little farther for great snow.”
Mount Baker Ski Area has their COVID-19 guidelines listed on their website, for prospective skier or snowboarder reference.