If there’s one thing you don’t want to see when you’re on a double black diamond run, it’s another snowboarder hurtling towards you.
In this particular instance I was at Mt Baker in the US with eight other instructor friends (watch the video here). It was our first day there and we had just passed under the rope to the “Extreme Danger Zone” where all runs were of the ebony variety and there was an abundance of cliffs. This area also came with a “minimum $500 rescue fee” should anything go awry.
We weren’t even half way down the run when a group of us were confronted with a steep and narrow chute that ended in a frozen waterfall. It was nearly impossible to get our heel edges into the ice just to sit down and contemplate the best way to navigate it. Of course, Mark didn’t do much contemplating and just jumped off the edge. With three other girls in tow, I decided to go next and was standing up to ready myself when I heard an awful scraping noise behind me. I looked up the slope and saw one of our friends sliding out of control down the chute towards me. “I can’t stop!” she called out. For a moment all I could focus on was that sharp-edged board coming right at my face.
There was no room either side to move. The only way was down. Too late – my friend’s board hit me. I managed to roll so just the tip caught me and she went pin-balling down the chute ahead of me, before sailing off the edge of the waterfall. The force was enough to knock my snowboard’s edge out of the snow and I soon followed her. My stomach lurched as I went over but thankfully the lading was soft. The next problem was that I couldn’t stop sliding down the rest of the hill. I wriggled around like a falling cat until I could get my legs below me and my heel edge into the snow. When I finally came to a stop I checked that my friend was uninjured before bursting out laughing. And that’s how we started the day at Mt Baker.
Rewind 16 hours and Mark and I had just left Whistler. We had picked up our friends Jackson and Sarah and the car was loaded up with all our snowboarding gear and the team mascot, Toothless. The rest of our five friends would be joining us in the USA later that day after work.
We swung by the bank to exchange about $500 CAD to $400 USD and I started chatting to the teller about what to expect at the US border. You see, I was secretly terrified of the newly christened Trump-land and its right-wing values. Surely they’d be able to smell my liberal sensibilities. Like sharks.
“Be polite and take it seriously,” the teller told me.
Serious. Right. I got this.
I left the bank and promptly went to McDonald’s to pick up a kid’s activity sheet, complete with crayons.
With Mark behind the wheel we drove down the Sea to Sky Highway, one of the most beautiful stretches of road in Canada. It hugs mossy mountains on one side and drops away to the fjords of Howe Sound on the other, with snow-capped peaks in the distance. Mt Baker sat just across the US/Canada border, a mere 4 hour drive from Whistler. It wasn’t long before we had driven through Vancouver and were following signs to US Customs. By the time we were at the border, in a line of cars waiting to be processed, I had already completed a find-a-word, coloured in a hermit crab’s shell and written an acrostic poem about the seaside and old people dying. So obviously I was feeling really mature and able to handle a border crossing.
Making Friends With Unfriendly Americans
“Do you have ESTAs?” he asked.
“Pull over to the side and go in to see the Customs Officers.”
“Oh. Ok. Can we have our passports back?”
“No. These will go to the officers.”
Oh my lordy, now I would have to interact with real American-ites and not giggle in their very serious faces. We walked in and were greeted by two officers that seemed to be playing Good Cop, Bad Cop with us. One lady was friendly and helped us to look up the address of our accommodation while the man was strict and severe. He and I had fun conversations like this:
“Yes? Maybe? Do you mean me?”
“Is there another Alexandra?”
“Uh…I guess not.”
“When was the last time you were in America?”
“So you were an illegal immigrant?”
“What? No. My dad worked there. He -”
“Fill out this form. Remember to put down that you were an illegal immigrant. Then come with me.”
I was directed to the other side of the room. He was separating me from the group. Surely for interrogation. He must figure I’m the weak link because I keep giggling.
As the man processed my paperwork and scanned my fingerprints we kept talking and I realised he was just messing with me. I started joking around with him and soon we were chatting about snowboarding and having a good old laugh. I paid my $6 for a border crossing permit and said good bye. I think he was sad to see us go.
The House of Horrors
Now that we were in America things suddenly got very…American. The landscape was flat and farm-y. Every house had a barn. Or an American flag. Or both. We even saw a real life Trump support sign and I may have screamed.
The sun was setting over the fields and rusted farm machinery. As night fell we found ourselves in a forest with cabins dotted throughout the trees. We eventually found the cabin that served as the reception for our accommodation. Except no one was home. It was 6pm, minus five degrees and we were in a pitch black forest with no idea what to do next. Things were starting to feel like a horror movie.
There seemed to be a party going on at the house across the road so the four of us shivered our way across and knocked on the door. A dread-locked girl and a man wearing only pants and a bow-tie answered.
“Hi!” they yelled. We explained our situation and they were determined to help. So determined, in fact, that the dread-locked girl exclaimed, “You need our help! We must help you!” before dashing into the night, never to be seen again.
Soon the bow-tie man was joined by a woman with glitter all over her face, covering up her bare chest with one arm. They told us we had just missed Obama landing a backflip through a ring of fire they had constructed in the front garden (and sure enough, there was the ring of fire, complete with kicker and a smouldering bonfire). They were very helpful and got the number for reception, except none of our phones worked in the US. So they gave us directions to a completely irrelevant place in town and we left, having achieved nothing at all.
Yet we came away lucky. Our second car-load of friends had the same trouble and happened to stop at the same house. Our friend Aari was dragged inside, surrounded by glittering women and forced to do shots before he could leave.
Back to our tale of woe. We walked back across the road and I saw something glimmer from the darkness. Then it moved towards us. A big black dog emerged from the shadows and was coming right for us. Suddenly a man appeared on the balcony, yelled “Dakota!” and the dog left us alone. It turned out that this was the owner of the property we had been looking for.
The man smelled a lot like weed but he told us that our cabins were open and waiting for us. The directions were very specific: Go up the street, it’s the one with the light on. We soon pulled up at one of the quaintest wood cabins I’ve ever laid eyes on. There was wood piled up on the porch, a roaring fireplace inside, quilts, card games and weird embroidered rabbit artwork. We were in love.
For those interested, we stayed at The Logs at Canyon Creek and we paid $71 each for two nights, with nine people between two cabins. There was no Wi-Fi or phone reception so we were burdened with the task of actually talking to each other. Eventually the others turned up and we spent the night playing card games over a few beverages.
Tragedy at Mt Baker
The next day we geared up and drove to the mountain, through mossy forests and pine-lined winding roads. There were only a few dozen cars in the car park and yet we were informed by a local walking her dogs that this was “a busy day”. Here are a few interesting things about Mt Baker:
- A day lift ticket is only $55.
- There are 8 lifts with predominantly intermediate and advanced terrain.
- The learning area is a rope tow and the Snow School is practically non-existent.
- The resort is nestled between the actual Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan, both of which appear to have amazing backcountry opportunities.
- There are only 3 restaurants at the mountain, and one is only open on weekends. The two that we visited had resident cats.
- There’s a weird double chairlift that comes up from two different sides of the mountain and allows you to dismount in the middle. This means the chairlift starts heading downhill again before you get off, which is an incredibly weird sensation.
- None of the chairlifts have safety bars!
- The famous Legendary Banked Slalom had ended the day before we arrived. While we missed the big names that came for the event, like Torah Bright, Terje Haakonsen and Jamie Lynn, we did get to ride the course for free!
The day was warm and sunny. The snow became slushy and friendly. The cats were soft. When beer’O’clock rolled around Sarah, Janice and I had a drink in the sun while the boys, Rhi and Astyn carried on to play a game called “how many cliffs can we drop before our shoulders pop out”. Jackson lost that game and was taken down by ski patrol.
After a full day of riding we retired to our cabins and celebrated Alex Jackson’s 21st birthday. We would be leaving the US the next day so we had to dispose of all alcohol before crossing the border. It was tough but we did it.
Our second day of riding was much like our first with plenty of sun and slushy fun, and even less people. “You’ve got the resort to yourselves today,” the ticket seller told us. The views were endless, the riding was epic and the company wasn’t too shabby either.