Mt Baker Road Gap

I have eyed up the Mt Baker road gap for as long as I’ve skied at that mountain. Some day, I thought, that beast will go down. But its no trivial feat. The gap is 50-60 feet long and it steps down 15-25 feet from the takeoff to landing. It’s literally a large jump built on top of a cliff with a highway in the middle. This would take the right day, the right conditions, and the right crew.

When the day began, I had no idea we’d be gapping the road. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to be in Washington state anymore. I had planned on going south to California a week prior, but I was enticed by another backcountry skiing trip in the Baker area. The same crew from the Mt St Helens trip – Corbin, Kelsi, and I – had planned on hiking and skiing Mt Baker summit, a massive glaciated peak over 11,000 feet in elevation. It was going to be the biggest mountain we’d ever attempted. However, the weather had a very different plan for us. A major winter storm hit, dumping feet upon feet of fresh snow on a poorly bonded interface, making travel in the backcountry treacherous and avalanche-prone. Coupled with the bad visibility, attempting to summit Mt Baker was unconsiderable. So I did what any ski bum would do and headed to the resort for some in-bounds powder laps.

The day was so sweet. Corbin and I shredded some familiar lines and dropped cliffs into waist deep snow. In less than 2 hours we had devoured so many sick lines that we literally had our fill. Then, just as we were about to drop again, I heard someone say “it’s open” and immediately knew they were talking about the Canyon. The Canyon is a really sweet terrain feature at Baker ski resort that has a large circular bowl that funnels into a steep narrow canyon. Its a terrible terrain trap, so ski patrol rarely opens it during storm cycles. But this day was the exception, and we were in perfect position to take first tracks down it. Without a moment’s hesitation we ducked the rope past the ski patroller flipping the sign from “closed” to “open” and swarmed the virgin snow. It was, without a doubt, the best in-bounds run I’ve had at Baker all year, probably ever.

Corbin and I cruised the whole way without stopping and re-grouped at the bottom. The line at chair 6 looked about 45 minutes long, apparently everyone just found out the Canyon was open. It was only noon, but we felt like we already had a full day. Unmotivated by the line, we decided to build a jump instead of waiting for more laps. Then the realization hit us, as if we’d both been thinking about it in the back of our heads for years but never had the right opportunity, we needed to go scope out the road gap. The decision was made.

There are two places to hit the road gap, and both had been hit earlier in the year. We found the old takeoff ramps, and took a guess at what the in-run would be. One side had a bigger cliff, but shorter gap. The other side had a longer gap, but less of a cliff, and more room to prepare yourself for takeoff. We decided we wanted to hit both, but we’d start with the shorter, longer one. If it went well we’d probably hit the taller one too. The spot we decided to hit was about 60 ft across with a 15 ft drop. We’d need to get a lot of speed to clear it.

We built the jump in no time. There was so much snow, and we were so motivated, that we built a jump bigger than my van in less than an hour. Our takeoff ramp was about 12 feet wide and 8 feet tall. The harder part was actually the in-run, since the fresh snow needed packed down from way uphill. About 3 hours into the process, we were ready to try it out. We each made 3 speed runs, getting a feel for how much speed we could get and comparing that to how much we thought we’d need. Each test run ended with the same conclusion, we need more speed. When we finally did hit the thing, we were starting way uphill in the ski resort, bombing full speed across a cat track, ducking the boundary rope, and cruising down our in-run max speed at the jump. We were finally confident we’d have enough speed.

Without discussing it, we somehow both knew I’d be the guinea pig. Corbin got the camera set up, and I made plans to call him 30 seconds before dropping in. I was so nervous, but at the same time I knew I’d be alright if I stuck to the plan. Hit it full speed, no speed checks, if I lose speed on the in-run for any reason, bail. For once, I was way less concerned with overshooting the jump than undershooting it. Overshooting meant you land flat in waist deep snow, probably buried but otherwise unharmed. Undershooting meant you hit a wall of plowed snow at full speed before falling 10 feet onto pavement with traffic. So I vowed not to speed check, prayed for safety, and dropped.

My first thought in the air was that I came up short. I had a sense, a knowing, that I hadn’t gotten enough speed and I would crash into the wall. I panicked and threw my feet out in front of me to try and absorb part of the impact. I was wrong. My carefully calculated speed was just right, and I cleared the lip by about 6 feet, phew! Next time I would have more confidence, next time I might even do a trick, lol. Corbin had the same problem as I did, and panicked mid air only to find he cleared the gap comfortably. We each hit it twice before losing daylight. What a day!

We returned the following day with our friends Brian and James. I’ve talked about hitting the road gap with Brian for years, and he was so stoked to join us. James was not that stoked about it, but after sleeping on the idea the night before he decided he was ready to give it a go. James had to work most the day, but he helped us with the in-run on his lunch break and came to hit it after work.

Brian, Corbin, and I decided to take a run before hitting the road gap. We did a hitch-hiking lap on a low-angle backcountry line called the Firs. It was really, really good. We were so stoked about it that we decided to take our chances with getting a ride and hit it again before the road gap. Worth it. The only problem was that another crew had arrived at the road gap, and they were claiming the taller side, the hit we passed on the day before. We wanted to hit that side too, but we gave them their space and hit the jump we built the day before.

We had a sick session. Of course Brian backflipped on his first hit, that guy is absolutely insane. Then he kicked off a backflip train that got us all inspired to flip it. Cars were creeping by, each hoping to see someone hit the jump as they passed through. Since two crews were hitting the road gap, some cars got jumped by two riders in different places. Lots of people stopped to take photos. We were sort of worried about getting reprimanded for breaking some rule or something, but no one hassled us. The DOT saw us several times, and we even had a ski patroller watching us. Apparently they don’t mind 🙂

The experience was everything I hoped it would be. Everyone cleared the road. No one got hurt. No one got in trouble. The experience was well worth the years of waiting, and we got some sick footage to remember it by. Corbin and I even got to hit the taller side once at the end of the day. In Brian’s honor, I backflipped it on my first and only hit. I knew he would have done the same if he hadn’t broken his binding earlier…

Here’s the video from our epic road gap session, enjoy!

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