Has Skiing Lost It’s Soul?
Nobody exudes more soul than Seki Onsen Owner, Mikio Inoue, who proudly dons his ADL Japow hat and Koozie while greeting every skier on the mountain… all 20 of them.
It was a question raised in a famous article in Powder Magazine 15 or 20 years ago and although the sport has survived since then, if you read the local group chats and ski news around America the last few years, you will undoubtedly start asking yourself if indeed, the sport of skiing has finally lost its soul.
Longtime ADL Member and DreamTrip pro, Sam Avaiusini and his wife Lori had just returned from our Dolomite trip to Italy where we skied for miles and miles, with no lift lines, ate $10 fresh pasta and had cheap beer and Aperol spritz’s daily for Apres. He too was feeling a bit uninspired, but then the April storms started lining up, POWnding the Cascades with mid-winter goodness. Sam shook me from my dying winter slumber and drove us to his favorite local bastion of skiing soul – Mt Baker!
Embarrassingly I had never skied there, but Sam was the friend to explore it with. His experience on the mountain goes back 30 years and no matter the weather and conditions he knows how to navigate the terrain, which in his words is “gnarly”. The supposed long drive time and lack of lodging was always my Mt Baker Achilles heel of an excuse, but Sam got us there in 2 hours 10 minutes, faster than it takes me to get to Mission Ridge and from there the surprises kept coming…
Mt Baker ski area is located in the northwest corner of Washington State at the end of State Route 542, the Mt Baker Highway. Located in the Northern Cascades, the Mount Baker ski area is technically not actually situated on the big volcano of Mt Baker, but rather on a smaller side hill on Mt Baker’s flanks and just under the more impressive Mount Shuksan. The resort is locally owned by shareholders and six major families in the Bellingham area and is anything but corporate. Baker is most famous for its snow and vast backcountry, easily accessed from its lifts. The ski area is home to the world’s greatest recorded snowfall in one season, 1,140 inches (95.0 ft; 29.0 m), during the 1998–99 season. Mt. Baker also enjoys one of the highest average annual snowfall of any resort in the world, with 641 inches (53.4 ft; 16.3 m).
History aside, my first impressions started in the parking lot where it’s first come first serve. There are no parking reservations required at Baker and daily walk up lift ticket prices are reasonable. Sam’s advice of leave early and then enjoy a coffee and a breakfast sandwich in the rustic White Salmon Day Lodge, which oozes skiing soul, was spot on. It’s hard to imagine how much beer has spilled and how many laughs have reverberated off its wood walls over the years. After a quick breakfast we still were about the 10th person in the lift line. It was a blue bird pow day in April and the crowd was pretty average. We set our sites on the backcountry terrain off lookers left of chair 8 and the Shuksan Arm. The terrain options are healthy with everything from gentle pow cruiser to gnarly drops and chutes you’ve probably seen in many a movie.
We grabbed a few runs in low hanging fruit while we waited for the younger, more energetic snowboarders to pack out the trail leading to the arm. The hike up is short but steep. Quickly putting our skis on our packs and stripping off layers, we boot packed up. It’s strenuous if you are in a hurry and excited. I’d say its harder than the hike to Southback at Crystal only because you have to take your skis on and off about 4x and then bootpack versus the side stepping you do at Crystal, but the rewards are worth every step.
The April sun started to take it’s toll on the fresh snow around noon or we could have enjoyed more untracked lines late into the day – there is tons of terrain if you are willing to work for it. It would take a few days to explore all the terrain at Baker as we didn’t even hit all the lines off Heathers Meadow to the North.
Mt Baker is definitely a resort for those seeking the soul of skiing. You get what you pay for and more if you love the backcountry. At the end of the day, there was a band playing on the balcony outside of the lodge. A small throng of sun worshipping riders soaked up the music and the vibes. There were no beer cops patrolling the area and if you weren’t carrying a cell phone you might have thought it was 1975.
The Roosters come home to roost in Kitzbuhel while we apres at Walders Farmhouse. Brad Mombert & Scott Jones enjoy a classic day at Axamer Lizum in Austria. Matt Rundle leads by example at Murren, Switzerland and a loan ADLer flows through the Fukai Yuki (Deep Snow) at Seki Onsen, Japan.
On the drive home we started talking about the simplicity of resorts like Baker and Sam recalled the article in Powder so many years before.
“It got me thinking that in essence, the ADL Ski Club exists to search and find the soul of skiing, everywhere we go.“
Our DreamTrips take us to the Mt Bakers of the World where the soul of skiing is alive and well, from the two lift, 103 year old resort of Seki Onsen in Japan where owner Mikio Inoue greets each skier as they get on their first chair, to the cog trains of Wengen/Murren in Switzerland, the huttes and jewels of Austria, Dolomites and Chamonix – we go for empty lift lines, big mountains, huge smiles, great food and to capture the essence of the soul of skiing. Yes my friends it’s out there. You can find it locally at Mission Ridge, Mt Baker and Whitepass and when that’s not enough and you really want to find it in copious amounts for a week or more… there are the DreamTrips.
The soul of skiing is alive and well… You just need to know where to look!