Mt. Baker Ski Atlas — The Key to Mordor Powder?

Post by blogger | November 15, 2017      

The Baker Ski Atlas was recently released, and is available here. Also, there is a release party tonight in Seattle, more info here.

Cover of the Mt. Baker Ski Atlas for backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering.

Cover of the Mt. Baker Ski Atlas.

This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry, where you can get any of the Colorado Off Piste Guides, and perhaps pick one up for your springtime PNW corn foray.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost ten years since I first explored the Mount Baker backcountry of Washington. When I learned of the stormy North Cascades as a teenager, it was shrouded in an aura of mystery. I had visions of sullen, silent locals in thick black Gore-Tex suits, clutching Starbucks coffee cups as they trudged through heavy snow below a grey cloud-choked sky. A bit like Mordor, but with pow. If this version of Mordor had the deepest snowpack in the United States, it would be pretty tempting. So I tried it.

Baker turned out to be an incredible place — and the locals were even pretty nice. Nice enough that I eventually decided to become one (I’m still not much of a coffee drinker though).

The Baker backcountry was initially intimidating. The terrain, weather, and conditions are quite different than back home in the high desert of the Colorado Rockies. I was often stymied by route-finding or strange snow conditions. Some of the outings were fun and I wouldn’t change them, but not always. Along with a smattering of challenges, I would have loved to have access to a modicum of info outlined in compact guidebook illustrated with crisp aerial photos. Hmm, maybe like a guidebook from Off Piste Ski Atlas publishing?

I dug this photo up from my first PNW trip report, all the way back in 2008. Good memories exploring the beautiful baker backcountry for the first time.

I dug this photo up from my first PNW trip report, all the way back in 2008. Good memories exploring the beautiful Baker backcountry for the first time.

The new Baker guidebook is Off-Piste Ski Atlas’ second book covering a PNW locale, the other being their Snoqualmie Pass guidebook published last year. The company is based in Colorado, and has also published books for Silverton and Crested Butte, with more in the works (including some kind of odd ‘easy tours’ book by my dad).

Although the books are published under one roof, they utilize different authors for different areas. Matt Schonwald, a PNW guide, has written the Snoqualmie and Baker books. The Atlases are a bit of a fresh look at ski guidebooks. Light on words, and heavy on aerial photos and other graphics. They shy away from detailed route descriptions in favor of showing lots of options with little information. The result is something that is small, light, and a bit more like a climbing guidebook than a traditional “encyclopeadic” ski touring guidebook.

I do have a deep love of classic “wordy” guidebooks, the ultimate example probably being the hefty Cascade Alpine Guide series. The “Becky Bible” is in fact larger, and maybe contains more obscure info, than the actual Bible. Many adjectives could be used to praise the Becky guides, however, “quick”, or “lightweight” would not be among them.

In contrast, it’s easy to quickly glance through the Mount Baker Ski Atlas and choose a spot to enjoy for the day. However, if you’re not a local, you might need additional info to figure out the details of a route. In many ways, I think the lack of specific info is a distinct advantage. It allows the book to showcase an incredibly large number of runs and areas in a concise way. The Baker book describes almost 100 distinct routes! Other ski guidebooks are forced to focus on a few exceptionally popular or special runs, which inevitably draws more people to the already well-known runs. The Atlas doesn’t highlight one particular run over another.

Although I spent several years exploring the Baker backcountry, I’ve recently moved farther south, and now only get up there a few times a season. Even with my now limited exposure, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of backcountry skiers in the area, especially in the most easily accessible area: Artist Point. Justifiably so: Artist Point and the Blueberry Chutes are easily visible from the parking lot, and offer excellent skiing. However, there’s an enormous amount of other terrain in the area that is accessible in a short day trip. Many of these other areas can be almost entirely deserted, even on a sunny weekend when there’s a five person wide skintrack up Artist point.

In view of such concentrated use as Artist point, it’s likely that the Baker Ski Atlas will inspire skiers to explore. Hopefully this will spread out the impact of the growing numbers of backcountry skiers, increasing everyone’s enjoyment and safety. Of course, I’ve got mixed feelings about this, as I love knowing where to find a easily accessible, secluded spot on a busy weekend. Indeed, the selfish side of me was pleased to notice that a few of my “secret” spots weren’t included in the Atlas.

I’m not often interested in new guidebooks covering areas I’ve enjoyed for years, as they rarely include ski routes that I haven’t heard about. I’m happy to say I learned a thing or two perusing the Baker Atlas, and even added a few runs to my tick list. I recommend checking it out, you’ll find new stashes and might even retrieve the Ring.

The Baker Ski Atlas was recently released, and is available here. Also, there is a release party tonight in Seattle, more info here.


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7 Responses to “Mt. Baker Ski Atlas — The Key to Mordor Powder?”

  1. Andy Carey November 15th, 2017 9:47 am

    My stepson has been skiing the Mt. Baker backcountry for 29 years; he roams far and wide. But he says now it is crowded everywhere no matter how far from the ski or even from other lesser know access points. This guidebook, as all locals say, should help. LOL

    My stomping grounds are the south side of Mt. Rainier; not only are there a number of guide books but the crowds have grown exponentiall in 2 directions: number of enthusiast and types of locomotion. What was once primarily XC and telemark is now AT, Spilt-board, snowshoes (including physically superior people who travel long distances in all types of terrain), and regular alpine gear when the lift-served areas are closed.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 November 15th, 2017 10:07 am

    Andy, if we have more children we’ll send them up your way, that’ll keep it uncrowded around here (smile). Lou

  3. Andy Carey November 15th, 2017 10:50 am

    Lou, can’t worry about it anymore 🙂 Just trying to get my grandkids (4 of them) involved in bc skiing LOL There are so many people bc now a few more won’t matter. I don’t even ask that they use common sense anymore. Just enjoy the spectacles. Used to get upset about snowshoers and booters in the skin track; now I invite them. It is all good.

  4. Sean November 16th, 2017 1:00 pm

    I went to the ski atlas release party, and pre ordered the book. To be honest, the party was good, but I’m a bit disappointed with the book. The first four pages were printed twice, and they were all just advertisements. Additionally, none of the content was anything particularly new as it was all out of the ski area parking lot. For $30, I was expecting something that covered a little more area. Perhaps including routes along HWY 542 headed up to the resort. In summary, it seems like a while lot of excitement about something pretty small.

  5. Andy November 18th, 2017 7:25 am

    From Off-Piste, we’re sorry you were not satisfied with the new book. Further, we had a bit of a panic at HQ when we learned that you have some pages printed twice! Please contact me at andy at offpisteskiatlas dot com where we can arrange a replacement for you. After pouring through boxes of other books, we still can’t find another one with duplicate pages (lucky you!).
    Regarding your issues with the quantity of content, we’re sorry you’re not satisfied. In our defense, there are 96 listed runs in this book, the most of any books in our Off-Piste series. Matt poured so much energy and knowledge, focusing on quality of content, over quantity. As with all Off-Piste titles, we first focus on the highest traffic zones of the given area.

  6. Adam December 27th, 2017 1:00 am

    I haven’t seen the whole book but I’m not impressed with the three pages I’ve seen. There are misnamed runs, run names I’ve never heard in nearly 20 years of skiing here, and one completely insane approach suggestion.

  7. Andy December 27th, 2017 10:13 am

    Regarding run names: This is the hardest thing to deal with for an author as they consider the three or four names they’ve heard and decide on the best, most appropriate, most consistent one. If you are attached to a certain name, and feel like it should be the universal name, please get ahold of Matt at BCA Guides and give him your suggestion!
    Regarding approach problems: If there is a dangerous, incorrect approach, then that is a problem the author would love to deal with immediately. The primary goal of these books is to provide safe, responsible guidance through avalanche terrain. The author is an expert at this, but he’s still human and prone to mistakes. If you can give him some positive feedback and suggestions, then everybody wins, and he’d be open and thankful for your help. I hope the other 40 pages treat you better! Happy turns Adam.

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