NW Shreddin – Mt. Baker Splitfest
In the NW we are blessed with about 9 months of winter. At least, the average riders brain capacity is dedicated to riding fresh lines at their local mountain, and figuring out how to get it during those nine months winter whether snow exists or not. When flowers are blooming and green grass is growing awaiting to be mowed as the dry season creeps about the lower 45th parallel, riders of the NW are catching spring dumps of fresh POW.
Good friend Hot Toddy McViney clued me into a trip he and Jeff Parks were planning up to the lower continental United States most isolated NW resort Mt. Baker, for the now annual splitfest. Jeff had visited the splitfest last year to promote his home sewn goggle cases known as Tailgate Industries that are a ‘quiver essential’ in the backcountry as he likes to describe it. So with a motivational travel purpose, and a few seats open in a sweet all wheel drive Astro Van, we blazed out of Bend to hit the streets of the NW.
Regional road trips are really hard to beat, most often times friends of late, or new are called up, floors secured for crashing, backseat navigation specialists of unfamiliar terrain bust out with solid directions, and a conglomeration of past trips and good times are bestowed upon fellow road warriors. The dialogue that follows familiar terrain and friendships that have passed quality time together go deeper than your typical fleeting conversation found oft in todays instantly gratified social situations.
Catching up goes quick, and car ride conversations continue onto the fixed grip two seater at the once Mom and Pop resort that’s grown into a destination for people whose thoughts and actions are highly motivated by terrain that surrounds them. As our personal knowledge grows about an area by being dedicated to that zone, it offers a rider to share those learned things with the friends that surround them. We were lucky to have Todds friend and gracious host Ben, whom he met thirteen years ago in New Zealand show us around the finer stashes of Stevens Pass he’d found over the last eleven years being dedicated to the area.
After a solid day of shredding, we pushed on further north to find ourselves surrounded by some like minded people ready to choose lines and work together to be able open er up. Splitfest is a rather loosely organized event, where the limited number of dedicated splitboarding companies show up to help support the community of people who are into splitboarding, and being in the backcountry. Friday night is a gathering at local Glacier bar ‘Chair 9‘. Here we met native Washington shredders Nick and Jars, getting their whips dialed for the next days adventures, and we made a tentative plan to get after some lines.
We arrived in the upper lot at Baker Ski Resort, and were greeted with clear skies, moderate temps, and recently deposited deep NW Baker snow, it was time to shred. Jeff had met a Canadian named Ben the prior year and formed our group of six including Nick and Jars, and were off touring the ridge to Chimney Rock. With recent deep snow there were concerns for avalanche conditions, but the snow had been setting up nicely, and any slab type surfaces had adhered nicely to the warmer layer below. Our main concern for the day would be south facing or sunnier aspects warming from the bluebird skies, and loose sluff slides on steep slopes that couldn’t hold the weight of the most recent snow deposits. All being said, route selection was made carefully as a majority of this terrain is easily capable of producing slides pending the proper conditions.
Nick led our first lap down, ripped a seriously good line, and produced a small to medium sluff slide, but made it to the first bench un-scathed, and awaited all our drops. The terrain at Baker benches out, and has so many options, once at the bottom of one valley you are surrounded by an amphitheater of ridges, with more amphitheaters on the opposing side, there is so much to ride. After the first run our group chose to head up to the saddle and find Mazama bowl, so we could drop the other side of the valley were currently in. An over and back, was all that was needed to be back in belly of the first bowl we rode. Three laps was a solid day, and we made our way back to the Astro Van for some beers and tailgating.
The road that leaves Baker is a winding mountain pass that travels the mystical mountains of the Baker NW, and leads you straight through a vibrant green moss covered rain forest. There is so much life in the area that it can completely envelop any structure and consume the existence of a person. We drove through the forest being granted access and deliverance from such an incredible zone. A huge thanks goes out to Jeff for creating something he wants to share with other backcountry riders and being motivated enough to make it happen, both Bens for their NW hospitality, and Todd for having a bunch of good advice. The splitfest is an amazing opportunity to grow and share your stoke with fellow backcountry riders, it’s worth every bit of work it takes to make it up there. See you next year.
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