The Mt Baker Ski Area is a truly gorgeous place to explore. This was our first ski-trip outside of Canada, and we were lucky to arrive to pretty blue skies, after a day of fresh snow. Mount Baker is the massive volcano in Whatcom County, Washington, really close to the border with Canada. The Mt Baker Ski Area isn’t actually on Mount Baker, but it is pretty nearby, with views of both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. This ski resort is only 2 hours drive from Vancouver (as long as you don’t get stuck at the border) so it is a fantastic alternative to driving up to Whistler. It’s also almost one third of the price!
We only had one day in the area, but I’d like to share what we found and show you the gorgeous views.
Mt Baker Ski Area overview
Mt Baker Ski Area is located on a beautiful spot between two incredibly pretty mountains, Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. There are 8 speedy quad chairs and a whole variety of levels of ski runs, green (easy), blue (intermediate), black diamond (difficult) and double black diamond (way too scary for me!) You can see a map of the whole area here.
How to get to Mt Baker Ski Area:
If you are coming from Vancouver, the best way to get to Mount Baker is to drive. Cross the border at Sumas, then take the highway WA-547 south, followed by the WA-542 east. Make sure you have winter tires and carry chains. If you are coming from within Whatcom County, you can ride the Baker Bus to get there.
There are 2 day lodges, White Salmon day lodge and Heather Meadows day lodge. Each of those has parking, a cafeteria, shops and washrooms.
Updated for 2020
$63.02 all day, or $53.52 for half a day (plus taxes)
Mt Baker Ski Area – Getting started
We arrived just before everything opened (8:45am) and parked right by the Heather Meadows day lodge. The photo above was our first view of the day. Not bad eh!? When you start, you can either take the “experts only” C1 lift straight to the top of the mountain, or you can ski down to the C3 lift with access to easier green or blue runs.
I was instantly in love, I mean look at these views.
Mt Baker Ski Area – the ski lifts
The Mount Baker ski lifts are a bit older than the ones I am used to near Vancouver. They are pretty speedy, but the resort hires people to grab them just before you sit down, so they don’t bash you on the bottom *too* hard! Some chairs do not have safety bars, so you need to hold on tightly(!)
Many of the lifts take you up very steep slopes above black runs, so there are some fantastic views. These photos are all from the C5 lift, which takes you up to several fun blue ski-slopes.
Mount Baker – Green runs
We have been skiing quite a lot this season, so I am getting to the point that the green runs are a little easy, although all the green runs we tried in the Mt Baker ski area were great for the views.
Mount Baker – Blue runs
We spent most of our time on the blue runs. I had so much fun. The slopes were well groomed, with a layer of fresh powder, and hardly any people. It was perfect.
We were expecting the weather to get worse and the sky to cloud over, but instead it just got more and more beautiful. Instead, we were treated to stunning views of Mount Shuksan and the surrounding Cascade Mountains.
We spent most of the morning exploring the various blue runs on the Mount Shuksan side of the ski resort. The White Salmon run is rolling and great fun. The Nose Dive run has some steep, scary moments, but somehow I didn’t nose-dive down it! If you visit and go on the Daytona run, be careful near the end of it! It suddenly drops onto a very steep area covered in Mogul bumps. Keep to the right to avoid that area(!)
There are quite a few mogul-covered areas of the mountain, but they often have groomed spaces next to them, so you can choose the ski-style you prefer. I am not particularly good at navigating around moguls, so I mostly stuck to the groomed areas. I am keen to get better so every so often I would veer off and attempt to ski around them.
Mt Baker Ski Area – lunch
When you are ready for food, there are cafeterias at both of the day lodges. We headed down to the White Salmon day lodge for a bite to eat.
I ordered the pepper jack burger which was pretty good. They also serve various sandwiches, soups or chili. Apparently the food at the Heather Meadows day lodge is even better. I’ll give that a try next time.
This is the view of Mount Shuksan from the White Salmon day lodge.
Mount Baker – Black Diamond runs
Before last weekend I had never made it down a black diamond run before. The day before we went to the Mt Baker ski area, we visited Grouse Mountain in Vancouver and skied down my first ever black diamond… So I thought I *might* be able to make it down more black runs in the Mt Baker ski area. The thing is, to get the the Mount Baker side of the mountain you need to ride on chairlifts that say “expert only.” Eep!
Marc and Tim were a bit more confident, but we all three rode on one of the expert lifts up to the top of the mountain. I had butterflies the whole way up because I was not convinced that I’d be able to make it down again! Still, I was excited to make it up and see more amazing views.
The other reason I was keen to try Mt Baker’s black diamond runs is because one of them had my name on it! There is a run called Austin!
The Austin run was a bit intimidating to start with, so we started with the “blueberry cat track” piste. The thing was, it wasn’t as scary as I imagined. I know the difficulty of ski slopes depends on the mountain, but this was no more difficult than the blue runs I am used to on Cypress Mountain(!) This probably means that some of Mount Baker’s black diamond runs are easy-ish.
I was soooo happy to make it down the first black diamond, that I was ready to tackle my namesake, Austin. I got Marc to take a photo of me at top, just in case…
The Austin slope was much harder; It was quite steep and covered in mogul bumps. I took it really slowly and skied down with no style. Well, maybe I had ‘style,’ but it was a sort of jerky, terrible style! I may have looked a mess, but I *did* manage to ski down the whole way. (Yaaaay!!)
This is the “experts only” lift that we had to take back up the mountain.
Mount Baker Views
Most of the day we didn’t see Mount Baker, but after we’d made it down the Austin Piste, we were rewarded with a sort-of-view of Mount Baker in the clouds!
Mount Baker – Back country skiing
Now this is waaaaay beyond my newbie skill level, but we saw lots of people hiking off on the ridges around the Mt Baker ski boundary. If you look carefully at the photo below you can see a group of people at the top of that ridge. We had great fun watching expert skiers swish down the mountain in the back country areas.
All in all, we had a truly fantastic day at Mt Baker Ski Area. We did several more runs. The North Face was the hardest, and I fell quite a few times. Still, I got back up and had fun. Then at the end of the afternoon we skied down to Heather Meadows and our car.
I LOVED visiting this mountain. It was not crazily expensive, not too crowded and the views were spectacular. I think it would be a good place to learn the basics (lessons are also not too pricey) At the same time, I am glad we waited to visit, as if I came here before I was ready for the black runs, I would have been sad to miss all the views from the top of the mountain! I hope you like the look of those views as much as I did.
If you’d like to see the Mount Baker area in the summer, I have a post about the Skyline Divide trail here.