What’s new this year at Mt. Baker?
The biggest news at Mt. Baker this year is not the $1.3 million upgrade of chair three from a double chair lift to a quad, or the fiber optic upgrades installed around the perimeter for better security and communications.
It’s not the fact that Mt. Baker has almost beaten its own previous world record for snowfall in a single year for its 1,140 inches during the 1998/1999 season within the first few weeks of operation or averages 647 inches per year and boasts eight quad lifts, one double lift and two rope tows.
For Gwyn Howat, office manager of the ski area, the biggest news this year comes in the form of recognition. This year, Mt. Baker has earned an unprecedented amount of press both nationally and internationally for the ski area’s unique geographical location, and snowfall and management practices that abhor corporate sponsorship or advertisements at the ski area’s two base lodges.
Most recently, Skiing magazine’s readers voted Mt. Baker number 16 in the top 25 out of 740 ski areas in the country, Howat said. Another article in Powder magazine featured Mt. Baker as the cover story and highlighted the ski area’s efforts to keep pace with those larger resort destinations.
“That puts Mt. Baker in the league of Whistler and Vail which are owned by multinational corporations that have extremely deep pockets,” she said. “The fact that a small, independently run ski area such as Baker is even in the same playing crowd is a little like saying Glacier gets rated with New York City and San Francisco as a top destination area, so it’s kind of a big deal.”
Add to that the ski area’s operational budget receives no advertising revenue, she said, and the story becomes more impressive. Howat said she thinks the ski area was noted for its snow, varied terrain and a business philosophy that makes a conscious attempt to make the Mt. Baker experience feel as natural as possible.
“We don’t just take it seriously, we invest in it,” she said. “We’ve stuck with it because it’s just something we believe in and our friends and local people have supported us to stick with it. But it’s hard to compete in an industry where one of the finest resort destinations in America is not far from us at Whistler and they’re known for their night life and shopping as much as their skiing.”
Howat said on average, the ski area forfeits between $50,000 and $75,000 a year in potential advertising revenue. The only exceptions are during an event or special program and even then the ski area allows only temporary banner ads during the event.
“We wanted to make the ski area feel like when you came to Mt. Baker, you were arriving in the mountains with a few services to make your experience enjoyable, as opposed to arriving at another city in the mountains,” Howat said. “Part of how we helped to do that was to not allow any advertising at the ski area. So you won’t see any Pepsi logos or Starbucks logos or anything like that.”
Howat added that not only has their non-advertisement business model been able to survive, but has actually given them a competitive market edge in an industry that has diverged tremendously from the natural elements involved with skiing and snowboarding, in what Howat calls the difference between “people who vacation at Club Med and those that go on an ecotour.”
Part of that strategy’s success, she conceded, is rooted in a relatively progressive culture that surrounds the Bellingham area. Howat also credits the mountain’s massive annual snowfall and varied terrain.
“When you look at an aerial photograph of Mt. Baker, it’s very difficult to see that because we’ve used the natural terrain in the layout of the ski area,” she said. “We haven’t just gone out and bulldozed every hill and knob and turn, they all follow the natural lay of the land. In addition, there is more variety of steep and intermediate terrain consolidated into a concise area than other areas.
“So people don’t realize that in this little old corner of Northeast Whatcom County that they live in is a truly spectacular area,” she said. “They don’t recognize that they live on the north shore of Oahu. That is, what Oahu is to surfing, Mt. Baker is to skiing and snowboarding.”
Adult lift tickets are $39.46 (9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and $32.04 after 12:30 p.m. on holidays and weekends. On weekdays and non-holidays, adult lift tickets are $32 and $27 after 12:30 p.m. Day ski and snowboard rental packages are available at the ski area $30 and under and include boots, bindings and board or skis. Lift passes for children six years and younger are free.
While there are no overnight accommodations at Mt. Baker, several are available in nearby towns of Glacier and Maple Falls. For a complete list of establishments, visit www.mtbaker.us. Beware, though, accommodations are limited and reservations are recommended.
Road conditions are available at the Washington State Department of Transportation’s web site at http://wsdot.wa.gov/traffic or by visiting www.mtbaker.us.