Know the Ropes

Dec 2, 2010
Outside Magazine

Mount Baker sidecountry    Photo: Grant Gunderson

The proliferation of fat skis has turned everyone into a powder fiend. So if you want first tracks on the choicest runs on the mountain, it's important to be in the right place at the right time—namely, when the ski patrol drops the ropes on advanced terrain. Here's a cheat sheet for Snowbird, Wolf Creek, Mount Baker, and Taos. (Sorry, locals!)
Where: Mineral Basin, a southeast-facing bowl with intermediate to advanced terrain, and Mount Baldy, north-facing, hike-to terrain that's home to the Freeride World Tour Championships.
When: Show up at 10:30 A.M. on a powder day of 12 inches or more. Look for the exodus of ski patrollers from the warming hut right next to the tram.
Where: The tamer west side of the mountain opens first, followed by the Alberta Lift area, featuring the 40-degree Alberta Face.
When: Wolf Creek gets pounded with snow (an average of 465 inches a year), so the experienced patrollers can make the Alberta Lift area safe for skiers just 30 minutes after the rest of the mountain opens. Check with the lifties at Treasure Chair, who get a heads-up about 20 minutes before the Alberta Chair is open, so you have time to zip over and be first in line.
Where: Pan Dome, which contains 75 percent of the mountain's advanced terrain.
When: Given that Baker gets more snow annually than any other U.S. ski area (a record 1,140 inches fell in 1999), patrollers can be excused for, on occasion, not getting Pan Dome open before noon after a big dump. But it's usually ready to go around 10 A.M.
Where: Longhorn—a huge, steep fall line on the front side of the mountain that's normally bumped up—becomes soft and glorious after a big storm.
When: Around 10 A.M. Ski "the ridge" and keep looping around on Lift 2. Once you see the ski patrol start throwing their skis on outside the shack across from the lift, make a beeline for Longhorn.