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Heavy snow coming in Cascades; ski area open, but beware backcountry danger

Skiers are shown Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, on Chair 5 at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, looking down toward a ski run called Gabl’s.
Skiers are shown Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, on Chair 5 at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, looking down toward a ski run called Gabl’s. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A winter weather advisory continues into Wednesday morning for heavy snow in the North Cascades, according to the National Weather Service.

Some 17 inches of snow had fallen in the past day at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, according to a 7 a.m. Tuesday post on the ski area’s website. Another 2 feet of snow is expected by 6 a.m. Wednesday, the weather service said in a statement posted on its regional page. The snow level was about 2,000 feet.

“I’m looking out the window and it looks like a snow globe,” said Amy Trowbridge, ski area marketing manager.

For backcountry enthusiasts, the avalanche danger is high above and near the treeline on all slopes of the North Cascades, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center. The danger level is considerable below the treeline.

The highway department has been out there plowing like crazy. There’s a lot of snow on the hill.

Amy Trowbridge, Mt. Baker Ski Area

At the ski area, light snow was falling and winds were calm with a temperature of 26 degrees early Tuesday, according to the snow report at mtbaker.us. The ski area was reporting light powder conditions with holiday operations at both base areas. There was a 99-inch base at Heather Meadows and a 143-inch base at Pan Dome, a higher elevation.

Conditions on the Mount Baker Highway were clear to Glacier, said Chief Jerry DeBruin of Whatcom County Fire District 14. Higher up the road, Trowbridge said travelers have told her that Washington state Department of Transportation snow plows were keeping the two-lane road open for sightseers and winter sports enthusiasts.

“It was raining until Glacier and the roads were totally clear,” Trowbridge said. “The highway department has been out there plowing like crazy. There’s a lot of snow on the hill. We’re grooming for beginners and families – we get a lot of those at the holidays.”

Trowbridge said this month has been one of the snowiest Decembers in memory.

Mt. Baker Ski Area has received 292 inches of snowfall so far this season, about 130 inches more than any other ski area in the state, Trowbridge said. Measurements are taken from remote government recording stations and are generally accepted as accurate.

“We’ve only had one day of rain and a day of wet snow,” she said. “The rest has been incredibly light and dry powder. It’s just beautiful.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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