Wednesday, December 26, 2007

God's Country

Mt. Baker is famous for three things. The largest snow accumulation ever recorded, The Legendary Banked Slalom, and the idolized Craig Kelly. Snowboarders outnumber skiiers on the mountain by at least 5 to 1 and I have a sneaking suspicion that the grooming machine is simply for show. Needless to say, Baker is a hot bed for snowboarding culture. In fact, Mt. Baker is to snowboarding culture, what ancient Greece is to Western culture. Craig Kelly and the rest of the MBHC founded a philosophy of sport and nature as one, a community that fostered the love of much more than capital gain (FYI: Baker's nearest town, Glacier, has the lowest per capita income in Washington State). That is not to say that Baker culture was an extension of the peace/love hippie era. In many respects it's a reaction to that as well. It is a much more fuck you kind of mentality that thrives on free spirit, but mocks the politically correct kind. Nonetheless while the ever popular Xtreme era continues to turn snowboarding into a show of ridiculous stunts and expensive gear, Baker retains the essence of what is and what will always be snowboarding; it is not about money, or style, or even skill, but rather the feeling of gliding over deep, pure, untouched snow.

When I was a child, growing up in Bellingham, Mt. Baker was simply where we went every Saturday between December and March. I didn't realize its place in the snowboarding world, I just went up, hung out with friends, loaded up on free breadsticks (oh man, those were the days...) and played king of the mountain with the girls before riding down 542 blasting Bohemian Rhapsody. Since moving to Seattle I only get up to Baker a couple times a year. But I have that distant perspective now. The understanding of how incredibly unique the Baker scene really is. Granted I don't ride many other ski areas very often (who the hell would when you got Baker?!?) but when you're waiting in line for Chair 7 to open its clear that the original community and spirit are alive and kickin'.

Going to Mt. Baker after a heavy snowfall is like a throwback to the days of the Gold Rush. With a report of "8 new inches with 12 new inches in the last 24 hours" most people simply leave everything (work, school, family, bong tokes) to get up here. Eyeing the crowd's gear, one finds a mish mash of hand-me-downs and dumpster finds. Mostly old, jackets that are too small, gloves with holes, boards that are delaminating. Just like the Alaskan miners, the typical rider has long unkempt hair and a full, thick beard. Anything for added warmth (and a confirmation that sex and love are far from the mind's focus). The gold in this wilderness is the white powder falling from the skies (an addiction much stronger for Baker Bums than the other type of white powder) and once the lift opens it's a mad rush to find every pocket of this white gold.

In a typical search for powder (aka: freshies, pow-pow, deep shit, good stuff) no one holds their opinions to themselves. Sitting at the top one can hear fierce debate over which routes will yield the most benefits:

"Let's hit up Gabl's."

"No way man! Gabl's will be all tracked out! Let's skirt Gunner's Ridge and drop in from there."

"Perhaps we should hike out Blueberry."

"Naw, that's too much work, lets just head over to the Pea Garden."

If you ride anything under the lift you are sure to hear calls of admiration as well as ridicule. Anyone considering a drop can count on yells of encouragement and the yells and claps are only louder if you biff the landing and tumble head over heals (sometimes called a yardsale).

Within the first few hours of the day most of the best stuff has been mined by the boards and the soggy, smelly community heads back to the lodge to smoke a few cigarettes and swap stories. They are generally a bit exaggerated. Some individuals boast about five feet of fresh snow where there was actually two. Others brag about their secret reserve that they intend to ride in the afternoon, but probably doesn't exists. Some older veterans tell stories of old to wide-eyed youngsters as they both share a few pieces of beef jerky and a 40 of OE.

On a Relativist's globe Mt. Baker's simplicity is truly refreshing. There are no fights over religion because all revere the gods of the weather. Nobody debates the methods of wealth distribution because each new storm cloud brings a fresh blanket of opportunity. While difference may exist, the community is united through the love and pleasure of their place and that perhaps is something we can all learn from.

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