By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
The word is starting to get out about Mount Baker. Visitors from beyond Bellingham are flocking to the mountain, both for its summer recreation, and to visit Mount Baker Ski Area. This winter was particularly busy.
The resort doesn’t release numbers, but Amy Trowbridge, marketing manager for the resort, said that Sunday, Feb. 18 was the busiest day on record.
“This was our best season ever,” Trowbridge said.
Destination ski resorts in California, Utah and Colorado saw very little snow this year. The Cascades, however, had plenty of it. Especially Mount Baker. The ski season closed with 844 inches, “which is pretty phenomenal,” Trowbridge said.
“We really are an island of intense snowfall,” she said.
Between the winter of 1998 and 1999, Mount Baker received 1,140 inches of snow — setting a world record that has yet to be broken. The mountain regularly sets the record for the most snowfall in North America.
“Mount Baker is just in the incredibly lucky position the way that the storms flow in,” Trowbridge said. The mountain not only gets the snow storms that blow in from the ocean, it also gets the storms that flow south from the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
The ski area is also east of the actual Mount Baker volcano, so clouds coming in are uplifted over the mountain and cooled down, so it can get snow even if temperatures on the ground at the ski area are slightly above freezing.
“Forty miles south of us, Stevens Pass will get half the amount of snowfall that we get,” Trowbridge said.
All that snow attracted skiers and snowboarders from around the country, as regular ski resorts in California and the Rocky Mountains suffered from a lack of snow until the spring.
“Anecdotally, absolutely we believe we saw a big uptick in visitors from out of state,” Trowbridge said.
And while they’re here, they’re spending money on lodging, stores and restaurants in Whatcom County, especially near the mountain in towns like Glacier.
“In talking to the accommodations owners in Glacier, they saw a huge uptick this year,” Trowbridge said.
Mollie Pike is the administration and housekeeping manager at Snowater Resort, a condominium complex in Glacier that is mostly for vacation rentals.
“Mount Baker Ski Area attracts people from all over the world,” Pike said.
This winter saw an influx of guests.
“This last year has been so busy we had to hire additional staff to accommodate the rentals,” Pike said.
Summer and winter are equally busy at Snowater, Pike said, with lulls coming in spring and fall. The vast majority of their guests, however, are visiting to do some sort of outdoor recreation, whether that’s skiing, snowboarding, hiking, rafting or anything else.
Weeg Simmons also runs two vacation rentals in Glacier. Most visitors staying in Glacier to ski are coming from Canada, Simmons said, but it was a very busy winter, and the rentals were booked both with Canadians, and others traveling from out of state.
“Nobody else had snow,” Simmons said. “That always makes an impact for sure.”
In general, Mt. Baker Ski Area has been drawing more people in recent seasons, Trowbridge said.
“Happily in the Pacific Northwest, skiing and snowboarding has some really great growth,” Trowbridge said. That means more people hitting the mountains in general, increasingly, people from the Seattle are finding it worth the trip to head to Mount Baker.
“A lot of the other areas down south on some days can be really crowded,” Trowbridge said. “Mount Baker has previously been a pretty quiet area.”
Also recently lift tickets at many resorts have gotten more and more expensive, including the international destination Whistler Blackcomb in B.C., which was bought by Vail Resorts in 2016. Meanwhile prices at Mount Baker have stayed relatively low.
“I think people are starting to figure out that Mount Baker, we have great terrain, we have good snowfall and great value,” Trowbridge said.