Passing Through: Bellingham

Bellingham and Mount Baker provide one of the best recreation experiences in the country

SKIER: Cody Townsend PHOTO: Grant Gunderson

The top ten deepest snow days of my life have all been at Mount Baker, but its legendary snowfall is not why my friends and I, now spread out across the West Coast, make an annual pilgrimage there. It has more to do with the no-bullshit culture. Baker doesn’t have, or need, any marketing gimmicks. There are no high-speed chairs, no new chairs at all, no RFID gates, shops, vertical feet trackers, or heated seats. No, it’s all about the skiing. There’s a parking lot, a few chairlifts, and some really fantastic terrain. Oh man, that terrain. My best snow days have all been at Baker, but so have my best rain days—because even when it’s wet, the playful, nuanced, and steep terrain remains.

But none of this is probably new to you, because you are a skier, and skiers know about Mount Baker. Less talked about in our world is Bellingham. No, it’s not a ski town in the traditional sense, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a community more full of folks who recreate outside. The city is over an hour from the mountain, but well worth the commute. The drizzly old town is situated on Bellingham Bay, with views of the San Juan Islands, a number of lakes within city limits, trails and parks all over the county. It might be one of the most beautiful towns in the country, and Western Washington University, perched on Sehome Hill, just above town, should be on any college-bound skier’s short list.

Where you’re skiing: Lapping Gabl’s, under Chair 5, is one of the most fun sequences at the mountain. Follow the ridgeline until you find a way through one of the chutes that dumps you back underneath the chair, where it’s steep and full of rollers and rocks. That lap will get beat up quickly. What will stay fresh later are the trees to looker’s left of Chair 6, and the many sustained runs on the Pan Face. Baker is known for its backcountry skiing, however. Once the snow has settled, follow someone that knows the area well out the Shuksan Arm.

Where you’re eating:
You’re going to be hungry before you get back to Bellingham, and you certainly deserve a beer. Stop by Chair 9 in Glacier, which often has live music. Farther down the road is the North Fork Brewery, which has tasty pizzas. In Bellingham, your choices are more varied. Bridgeport Brewery or Casa Que Pasa, followed by beer at Cap Hansen’s and cheesy fries at The Horseshoe Cafe, and you’re on your way.

Where you’re sleeping: Bellingham is full of great and affordable Airbnb options. Look for one close to downtown, or in the cute Fairhaven district.