Travel | Outings + Activities | Family fun | Active Kids

Powder Power: A Deep-Snow Getaway to Mt. Baker Ski Area With Kids

Affordability, local flavor and epic snowfall adds up to a great escape for Seattle families

Mt. Baker Ski Area. Photo credit: Amit Chattopadhyay, flickr cc

After last year’s dismal snowfall around the region, snow enthusiasts are understandably excited about this season’s outlook, particularly at Mt. Baker Ski Area. A year ago Baker didn’t have enough snow to open, but this year the 1,000-acre ski area already has what might be the best snow base in North America, and more than any other ski area in the region.

If you’re looking for quality skiing and snow play that won’t break the bank, head to Bellingham and Baker for a weekend getaway. It's also possible to make it a long day trip — it's about a three-hour drive from Seattle, depending on conditions. While you’re in the area, consider visiting a few other Bellingham family-friendly gems for extra fun. Here's all you need to know. 

The scoop on Mt. Baker Ski Area

Known as a “locals” mountain, Baker isn’t fancy and is often uncrowded (the exception is a weekend day with fresh powder) and locals like it that way. A 1.5-hour drive east of Bellingham up State Route 542, Mt. Baker Ski Area features 10 lifts, a rope tow, two day lodges (White Salmon and Heather Meadows) that offer quality food for reasonable prices — try the salmon chowder in a bread bowl — and a small ski-in lodge called Raven Hut.

Baker offers a mix of terrain, with good options for beginner (24 percent of the runs) and intermediate levels (45 percent), but it is also known for its double black diamond challenges. This year's already-epic snowfall (snow depth is 113 inches at the base and 153 inches at the summit at press time) is no anomaly:  By some accounts, Baker holds the world record for greatest snowfall in one season.

Ski deals at Baker: Kids 6 and under ski free

Mt. Baker Ski Area offers many options for lift passes. Weekend/holiday ski passes are a relatively affordable $58 for adults (ages 16 and older); $40 for youth (ages 11–15) and $30 for children (ages 7–10). Kids ages 6 and under ski free.

Novices can cut costs with a $30 pass for Chair 2 all day (only open weekends and holidays). During the week, lift pass rates dip by $2–$5. Fifth graders ski free if you fill out an application by mail or in the Bellingham office (1420 Iowa St.). Also, if you’re parents of a child ages 4–6, the Powder Pups program can't be beat: Up to two adults accompanying a 4–6-year-old child get half-price lift passes, starting at 11 a.m.

Baker also offers lesson options for a variety of skill levels and ages, from private to small group lessons. Heather Meadows Day Lodge is open on weekends and holidays only; White Salmon is open every day. 

Wheeee! Sledding, snowshoeing and snowplay at Mount Baker

For free sledding and snowplay, head to Highwood Lake, which lies between the two day lodges to the left of the main road. Park for free along the road or in the upper parking lot at Heather Meadows Lodge and walk down. The lake freezes to create a bowl rimmed by snowbanks with slopes of varying heights for all ages. Start gently on the far side of the lake (follow the families) and work your way up. Tubes work great here. Plan to bring your own gear; rentals are not available.

For snowshoeing, Artist Point, accessible from the Heather Meadows parking lot, offers sweeping views with open terrain and the best snow. You’ll likely be able to follow people’s tracks, but depending on latest snowfalls, stop in to ask about current safety conditions and recommendations at the Glacier Public Service Center.

You can also just putter around near the ski area parking lot without going far. For a lower-elevation easy trek, try White Salmon Creek, an area accessible from Salmon Ridge Sno-Park (see below).

Crack Nordic skiers may be disappointed at the skiing available, but in a good snow year, low-elevation Salmon Ridge (a 2,000 feet-elevation Sno-Park off 542 with 40 parking spaces ) serves a family well with gentle terrain and woodsy scenery. When snow conditions allow, Salmon Ridge offers 25 kilometers of trails for skate and traditional skiing that are groomed weekly. The Salmon Ridge Sno-Park is about 15 minutes from the ski area; be sure to remember your Sno-Park pass, necessary for parking at any Sno-Park area  ($20 day pass, $40 annual).

Forgot something from home? Rent any kind of ski gear (including snowshoe and cross-country gear) or buy a forgotten item at the Glacier Ski Shop in the tiny hamlet of Glacier, the last town before you hit the snow. Or, of course, rent downhill gear at Baker. Call the ski shop to ask about snow conditions at Salmon Ridge, as well.

Urban fun in Bellingham, Lynden and beyond

Fairhaven, Bellingham area. Photo credit: iwona_kellie, flickr cc

Here's another reason to make your trip to Baker a weekend getaway. Winter is the best time for catching indoor exhibits and entertainment, and one of the Bellingham area’s best qualities is its kid-size accessibility. Most visitors know about the cute, historic Fairhaven neighborhood of Bellingham, but here are a few activities you may not know about.

In Lynden, a historically Dutch town 30 minutes north of Bellingham near the border, Lynden Pioneer Museum brings history to life. The exhibits include life-size replicas of Victorian downtown Lynden — café, bank, hotel, train depot — along with agricultural exhibits, antique cars and buggies, and a model milk cow. Kids love this place (open Monday–Saturday, admission $4–$7; ages 6 and under free). 

The unique all-ages discovery museum, Mindport Exhibits, in downtown Bellingham, blends hands-on science and art under a soaring ceiling. It’s been compared to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, but is manageably tiny by comparison, with its own flavor. Explore quirky hand-made displays like Magnetic Molasses, Swirl, and Backwards Speech. Admission is only $2 (open Wednesday–Sunday).

For kids of elementary age and older, the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention exhibits scientific achievement through the ages with original inventions by Edison, Tesla and Morse. It’s pretty amazing what’s packed in here, including a gallery of antique radios and a place to play with static electricity. On weekends, the MegaZapper Electrical Show sends out 4,000 volts of purple lightning. Fair warning, it’s loud; noise-sensitive kids will want to skip it (open Wednesday–Sunday, admission is $5–$8).

A short walk away, Henderson Books is worth a visit for book-loving families. Bellingham’s mini-version of Powell’s Books boasts floor-to-ceiling shelves, inviting lingering for all ages.

If traveling with teens, try a live improv performance (Thursday–Saturday nights) at the Upfront Theatre. The small, club-style venue makes kids feel grown up, and the comedy is hilarious. Tickets are available online or at the door if the show’s not sold out. Depending on your views of incidental salty language, it’s probably appropriate for kids ages 11 and older (tickets are $10).

Where to stay with kids around Mt. Baker/Bellingham

Baker doesn’t offer onsite accommodations, so where you stay depends on the vacation you’re aiming for. To ski all weekend, opt for a woodsy retreat in Glacier to minimize driving. Try Baker Accommodations, a family-owned business with vacation rentals in Glacier and Maple Falls, or Mount Baker Cabins in Glacier.

For a weekend that includes urban activities, stay in Bellingham and plan to rise early for the drive to the mountain. The centrally located Four Points by Sheraton (formerly Best Western at Lakeway) features an indoor pool and hot tub, onsite restaurant, and pub. TownPlace Suites by Marriott offers rooms with full kitchens and shares an indoor pool with the adjacent Springhill Suites.

Where to eat in the Baker/Bellingham area

Courtesy Mallard Ice Cream

For aprè ski fare, by far the most popular with locals is family-friendly North Fork Brewery near Deming for its thin-crusted pizza and small-community vibe. The place gets busy, so consider ordering on your way down the mountain to pick up as you go past. Be aware, cell coverage is tricky in the area.

If staying in Glacier, slightly upscale Milano’s Pasta Fresca, under new ownership, offers tasty Italian fare. Graham’s, across the street, features burgers, fish and chips, and other pub-style items in a rustic setting. Wake N Bakery offers coffee and baked goods. Be sure to bring groceries from town as the small convenience store attached to Graham’s is limited.

In Bellingham, the Old Town Café features a healthy breakfast and lunch menu popular with local families — but weekends do get crowded. If the line is long, head for The Bagelry instead. Taco Lobo offers authentic carne asada and fish tacos in a warm Southwest-themed setting, while La Fiamma is a perennial favorite for gourmet wood-fired pizzas and a kids’ menu with $5 personal pies. Top off at Pure Bliss Desserts, where the cake slices are tops and generous enough to share. Even in winter, Mallard Ice Cream — featuring top-notch handmade ice cream and quirky flavors — is a draw.

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