Snowy Days of Spring
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Freeskier Magazine. For more from this issue make sure to pick up a copy at your local newsstand.
Photos by: Re Wikstrom
Mount Baker is historically the snowiest ski area in the Lower 48, and last season lived up to the resortâ€™s history. Baker opened last November with a 70-inch base â€” the most of any opening day in Baker history â€” and was pounded with 237 inches that month. Though the middle season was average, March and April dropped another 221 inches of surprisingly light, fluffy snow. And thatâ€™s when we decided to pounce.
Atomic Team Manager Jordan Judd sent team riders Molly Baker and Angeli VanLaanen along with photographer Re Wikstrom to see what type of photographic magic could be made. Baker is Angeliâ€™s home mountain, and Molly had recently taken up residence in Glacier, the one-stoplight town closest to the resort. Both girls were full of ideas of where to ski and what to hit. And I decided to tag along for my first-ever trip to Baker. Enthusiasm was not lacking, to say the least.
Baker is a unique ski area in that over one-third of the terrain is expert only. And weâ€™re not talking about barely scary black diamonds a la Summit County. Weâ€™re talking, â€œwear your beacon, pack a shovel and go with a local,â€ expert-only terrain. The hike-to access off the Shuksan Arm and in the Hemispheres zone requires a mix of skinning, boot packing and careful navigation. But the rewards â€” picturesque wide-open powder turns, booty wind lips and perfect cliff drops â€” are well worth the effort.
Even though these areas can be navigated, they shouldnâ€™t always. In the two short days I was there, I saw three massive rips in three different zones. As one sign on the way out to the Elbow states, â€œRescue may not be possible. You or your heirs will be charged for any rescue.â€ Fortunately, Zach Griffin and Grant Gunderson, both long-time residents, were on hand a few days to add to Molly and Angeliâ€™s already considerable knowledge. Like a doctorâ€™s diagnosis, a second opinion never hurts, especially when it comes to snowpack and the safety of your crew.
Angeli and Molly had a couple specific goals for the trip: Angeli wanted to be the first girl to hit the famous Baker Road Gap, and Molly â€” coming off a long and painful knee surgery â€” wanted to ascend the idyllic, ice-covered Mt. Shuksan Peak. Angeli bagged the gap, but the team, led by AMGA-certified Anne Keller, was twice shut down on Shuksan because of bad weather. Not to be deterred, the peak will still be here next year, waiting for Molly and friends to conquer. – Nicole Birkhold
Click the photo to open up the Snowy Days of Spring gallery.