As of last weekend, Mount Baker had the deepest snow base of anywhere in the world, according to the ski area’s Web site. And you thought you had to drive to Canada for deep snow.
Mount Baker, 56 miles east of Bellingham on S.R. 542 (the last 15 miles of Mount Baker Highway were repaved this year) opened Nov. 8, kicking off another year of snowfall that will measure in the hundreds of inches. It still holds the world record for cumulative snowfall: 1,140 inches in the winter of 1998-99.
Snowriders will tell you that it has the best deep snow in the state; perhaps outside of Crystal Mountain’s Summit House, it also has the best view in the state from the top of Chair Eight.
And if you don’t want to drive to Whistler to see the world’s top snowboarding competitors, take the trip to Mount Baker Feb. 3-5 for the 22nd annual Banked Slalom snowboarding event.
Mount Baker’s owners upgraded Rail Garden and Terrain Park, made changes to some ski runs allow them to be used sooner in the season, and started preparations for a $1.8-million replacement of Chair Three with a quad.
In the November issue of Skiing Magazine, Mount Baker was listed as number 18 in North American ski areas, not bad for an area that doesn’t have accommodations.
When operating at full capacity, the ski area offers eight lifts, including five quads; a skiing elevation of 3,500-5,000 feet; daily operation from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and lift tickets are $32-40.
The nearest place to sleep is in Glacier, 17 miles west of the ski area. Baker does have a great day lodge, however. The ski area’s snow phone is 360-671-0211; its information phone is 360-734-6771.
Baker also offers classes that are geared to those tempted by superb backcountry terrain. Options include an introduction to snow safety; transceiver skills and snow pit studies for various levels; and refresher classes.
Avalanches: Get a taste of avalanche-awareness basics with avalanche expert Gary Brill at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Alderwood REI (425-640-6200). He’ll offer in-depth classes later in the season, but this is a good preview.
Staying alive: Recreational boating fatalities (676) in 2004 hit the lowest point since 1960, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. But 484 people drowned last year, and 90 percent were not wearing life jackets, the key to surviving an accident. In 2002, 750 fatalities were reported; in 2003, 703.
More than 13 million boats are registered in the U.S. but 70 percent of boat operators involved in accidents had never taken a safe-boating course; alcohol was a factor in at least 32 percent of reported boating accidents.
Statistics aside, 676 deaths last year left thousands of families and friends devastated, children without parents, parents without children, siblings without siblings. There is no statistic that can sum up grief.
Do the right thing by your family and friends: learn to boat safely and wear a life jacket.
Best boarders: Nearly 200 athletes from 20 countries will converge on Whistler-Blackcomb ski resorts in British Columbia Dec. 8-11 for the Nokia FIS Snowboard World Cup.
They’ll try to qualify for their countries’ teams for the 2006 Olympics, including athletes from Mongolia and China, which have never sent snowboarders to this competition. For more information, go to www.snowscene.ca.
On the bookshelf: Curious David Williams’ “The Street-Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from Seattle” ($15, WestWinds/Graphic Arts Center) delivers natural history in an engaging package of words and hand-drawn maps.
With a sharp eye, he moves smoothly from anecdote to science, from geology to eagles, from bugs to weather, poking into Seattle’s natural environments, adding a layer of human history, and finding answers for his questions.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.