The beauty of living in Whatcom County is that you don’t have to go far to play in the snow in a spectacular setting — be it snowshoeing next to the Nooksack River, cross-country skiing through trees draped with the white stuff, to bombing down a hill at snow-blessed Mt. Baker Ski Area.
In fact, you can satisfy most of your urges by driving up the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) to Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, a play land that extends more than 140 miles along the western slopes of the Cascades and that covers parts of Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.
Here’s our list of the top places to go snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, sledding and snowmobiling:
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING AND SHOWSHOEING
Thanks to the Nooksack Nordic Ski club, there are 15 miles of trail for cross-country skiers and snowshoers just off the Mount Baker highway. Called Salmon Ridge, it’s for people who don’t feel like traveling to Stevens Pass or northern Vancouver, B.C., to find a groomed or tracked ski area.
Overview: Salmon Ridge is a network of trails that include Razorhone Road and its branches, Hannegan Pass Road, Anderson Creek Road and White Salmon. Elevation: 2,000 feet
Directions: Go east on the Mount Baker Highway to just past milepost 46 (about 13 miles east of Glacier). The main parking for Salmon Ridge is a large parking lot. Just down the road, a little closer to Glacier, is a smaller lot for Hannegan Pass Road
Trail info: Salmon Ridge offers relatively flat terrain that’s great for beginning snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Among the offerings:• Salmon Ridge: Several miles of easy cross-country skiing over trails that are groomed and tracked, while the middle portions of the trails are wide enough for people who want to skate ski. Beautiful winter wonderland with one three-mile trail that ends at the Nooksack River and includes views of Mount Sefrit. Snowshoers are welcomed at this main complex but are asked to walk on the outside of the long grooves set down for cross-country skis and the trail; the middle is reserved for skate skis.
• Hannegan Pass Road (U.S. Forest Service road 32): Groomed and dog-friendly. This is a great spot for snowshoeing with magnificent views of the Nooksack River and Mount Shuksan. Also open to cross-country skiing but not tracked.
You should know: Sno-park permit required at the main Salmon Ridge parking lot; 40 parking spaces; portable restrooms at the main Salmon Ridge lot and near the Hannegan trailhead.
Maps: At Salmon Ridge and at www.nooksacknordicskiclub.org.
SNOWBOARDING AND DOWNHILL SKIING
This is a no-brainer with the Mt. Baker Ski Area just a 1½-hour drive up the Mount Baker Highway. Head east until the road dead-ends into the parking lots near the ski area, about 56 miles from Bellingham. Snowboarders revere the ski area, one of the first places to welcome snowboarding when other resorts looked askance at the sport.
Mt. Baker usually stays open longer than other Washington ski areas thanks to a quirk of geography that makes it one of the snowiest corners of the Cascades, a spot where storms funnel warm ocean air into the cold of the mountains. In the winter of 1998-99, it set the world record for a season’s accumulation at a ski area: some 95 feet. That’s about eight stories of snow.
You should know: Mt. Baker Ski Area lift tickets for weekends and holidays are $39.46 for adults; $33.90 for seniors; $19.05 for “super seniors” (70 and older); $29.72 for kids aged 7 to 15; free for kids 6 and younger. Fifth-graders can go free if they enroll in the ski area’s program.
The ski area, open daily from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., also rents equipment and gives lessons.
For more information: Call the ski area at 734-6771 or check www.mtbaker.us.
No area in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has been set aside for sledding, and it’s banned inside the Mt. Baker Ski Area.
Unofficially, people go outside the ski area’s boundaries to sled down the slopes around the frozen surfaces of Highwood Lake and Picture Lake. The area around Bagley Lake also is popular.
A warning: Pay attention in years of light snow, as winter turns into spring, and when fall hasn’t quite given way to winter’s hard freeze. That’s when the seemingly frozen surface of the lake you’re sledding over could give way under your weight.
Always check weather and avalanche conditions before you go.
Directions: Go east on state route 542 until you reach the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Park in the upper parking lot. Look for people carrying sleds or big tire tubes. With the base at Heather Meadows — the general area where the sledding sites are located — at 160 inches, you’ll have to put some effort into finding the lakes, which are hidden by high walls of snow that have built up around them.
You also might try: This is also a popular area for snowshoeing. It’s generally safe to snowshoe past the Heather Meadows Visitor Center and up to Artist Point, but you’re headed into avalanche territory beyond that.
With 168 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, there are plenty of places to enjoy a ride through the woods.
A warning: Snowmobiles are not allowed in wilderness areas so don’t venture out without a map that clearly shows wilderness boundaries; it’s easy, for example, to unknowingly cross into wilderness on parts of the Canyon Creek and Glacier Creek trails.
Map: The U.S. Forest Service has created a new topographic map that clearly marks such boundaries in the Mt. Baker Wilderness. It costs $6. Find it at ranger stations in Glacier (about 34 miles east of Bellingham on the Mount Baker Highway) and in Sedro-Woolley (810 state route 20).
Phone: 599-2714, for the Glacier station; (360) 856-5700 ext. 515, for the Sedro-Woolley station.
Area trails include:• Canyon Creek
Elevation: 1,020 feet
Overview: 55 miles long with glimpses of Bearpaw Mountain, Church Mountain and Canyon Creek.
Directions: East on the Mount Baker Highway to 2 miles east of Glacier, then north on U.S. Forest Service Road 31.
You should know: Sno-Park permit required; roadside parking; no restroom.• Glacier Creek
Elevation: 1,150 feet
Overview: Sections of this 20-mile trail run alongside Glacier Creek with views of Grouse Butte and Lookout Mountain.
Directions: East on Mount Baker Highway to 1 mile east of Glacier, then south on U.S. Forest Service Road 39. You should know: Sno-Park permit required; roadside parking; restroom.• Mt. Baker National Recreation Area
Elevation: 1,160 and 1,520 feet
Overview: This 19-mile route eventually splits into two — Blue Lake Trails and the popular jaunt to Schriebers Meadow — and boasts a stunning view of Mount Baker.
Directions: East on the North Cascades Highway (state route 20) to Baker Lake Road/Highway, go north for 12 miles, then west on U.S. Forest Service Road 12.
You should know: Sno-Park permit required; 75 parking spaces; restroom at Schriebers Meadow.