Mt. Baker is a family affair.
Of course, there’s Duncan, Gwyn and Amy Howat steering the ship with their mantra of culture over cash. But it’s much deeper than that.
I first visited the hill sometime in the late 80s with my parents. I don’t remember much of that day, but I’ve heard the stories for the rest of my life, about how my brother and I skied Chair 1 with some instructors who were happy to take us off the groomed runs. The next time I made the pilgrimage was in 2004, and on that day, I followed the son of a ski patroller named Mike Thur into the backcountry near Chair 5. That time around, the size of the snowbanks and the easy access to untracked lines blew my mind.
When I moved to Bellingham in late 2007 and first began learning the ins and outs of Baker, I did so with my new, extended family—my roommate Tyler introduced me to the layout of the hill, and as friendships grew, so did my knowledge of the ins and outs of the many little lines packed into Baker’s 1,588 vertical feet of terrain. Within a few years, I began arriving by myself from time to time, confident in my knowledge of the mountain, happy to share a stash or learn a new line when offered the chance.
A dozen seasons later, it’s become a ritual. I often pull in solo before first chair, board the lift, and see who’s there. Find someone who’s on a similar program, maybe show them a stash or two, but also enjoy the nuance of their own favorite turns.
Case in point: a powder day this year in early March. I wound up on first chair with the Lauderdale’s—Joe, Rosanne and their son Kailani. We hung a right at the top, dove into a little straight-liner, cruised a gully, and lapped back to the chair. On the second lap, we said hi to Sam and thanked him for checking our beacons, then exited the ski area boundary. Near the end of the run, Joe took a high right line, surfing a bank where I’d never thought to turn before, flowing into a sweeping left and out the bottom, opening my eyes to a new chance for flow in a little slice of Baker that I’d ridden many times. A couple laps in, I said goodbye to the Lauderdale’s and jumped in with Dave, who’d snuck out of work for the morning. We headed to the other side of the mountain and a few favorite stashes we’ve ridden together for years. He left at 11 and there was Eliah, just clocking out for a little ride break, and he led me to a pillowed entrance that I’d never seen, leading to a powdery flank off a favorite ridge—another member of the Baker family showing me their own approach to a mountain that can be interpreted in so many ways.
That’s the thing about Baker: even after hundreds of days—maybe thousands for some—there’s still a chance for discovery every day. As the snowpack evolves through the year, fresh lines open up, shut down, present new ways to descend that same patch of hillside. And the more days you spend up there, the more you grow that extended family—sons, daughters, moms, daughters, grandparents, passing down their own knowledge and building a bond that grows deeper day after day and year after year.