Mt. Baker is famous for a few things: deep snow, rowdy terrain, and wet weather. I moved up here for the season, and it’s been a lesson in avoiding trenchfoot, not destroying gear, and drying out gloves without unwittingly turning my house into a sauna. A good friend of mine—also new up here—has been experimenting with sleeping in her trailer in the parking lot over the weekends. Whenever it comes up, Baker veterans are quick to inquire about her drying system—a necessity in a small space with such wet conditions. Coming from Utah and Idaho, she hadn’t put much thought into it. Needless to say, her nights spent in the parking lot are soggy and humid.
Skiing or riding in the rain (or in heavy, wet snow) calls for a different set of skills and a different approach to your gear. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Start with the right gear.
In seriously wet conditions, 3-layer GoreTex® (or a comparable 3-layer waterproof fabric) is an absolute must. Outerwear that will do you proud throughout a Utah or Colorado winter may not be up for the challenges of a constant downpour. For instance, the Patagonia Snowshot Jacket, made of H2No® Performance Standard 2-layer polyester micro-twill weave, might be an awesome jacket for a drier climate but won’t hold in the Pacific Northwest. The Powslayer, made of 3-layer GoreTex®, will hold up against a rainstorm.
2. Take care of said gear.
Wash your waterproof clothing and refresh your DWR coating every few years. Dirty GoreTex® and worn-out DWR means your outerwear will absorb more water, be less breathable, and consequently be more susceptible to interior condensation. Old leather gloves sop up water like a towel, but with a fresh coat of Sno-Seal (an excellent beeswax-based waterproofing solution), they’ll hold out past lunch. Dry your goggles out religiously, every night (if you don’t, they’ll fog between the lenses).
3. Bring extras.
No matter how bomber your gear, gloves get soaked, goggles get foggy, and face masks get crusty with snow, ice, and snot after a few hours in the elements. For me, the key to skiing a full day in inclement weather is bringing backup. Swapping out sopping gloves at lunch makes a huge difference, as do a fresh pair of goggles and a warm, dry buff.
4. Set up a proper drying rack at home, and consider springing for a boot dryer.
When gloves, boots, and even helmets get properly saturated, a night in a dry house isn’t always enough to dry them out. Set up a rack near a wall heater or lay your gloves over a floor vent. Boot dryers are an additional expense (typically between $20 and $40), but they make a world of difference. Pulling your liners out of your boots or leaving them unbuckled overnight can help them dry more quickly as well. (Note that leaving boots unbuckled is usually a bad idea, as storing boots buckled helps them maintain their shape.)
5. Don’t let goggles get any wetter than they have to.
Waiting in a long line for first chair? Keep your goggles tucked away. If the foam gets saturated, the goggles will start to fog—and won’t stop until they’ve completely dried out. When it’s nuking, I keep my goggles on my face (where they’re protected by the brim of my helmet) or tucked inside my jacket—never propped up on my helmet.
6. Avoid hats.
Not entirely, of course, but if you’re choosing between skiing in a helmet or a hat, a helmet will protect your goggles and your noggin from the elements. Hats soak up water, hard plastic doesn’t.
7. Be smart about your baselayers.
When it’s really wet out, everything—from your midlayer to your long johns—will get at least a little wet. Skip the sweatshirt, cotton long-sleeve, or flannel in favor of wool or synthetics that dry quickly and keep you warm even when they’re wet. Save the cotton for sunny high-pressure laps.
8. Keep your wits about you.
Wet, heavy snow is unpredictable and often comes with low visibility. Rein it in and stay in control. Warm storms affect different aspects in dramatically different ways, and the compression at the base of that steep run might be home to crazy heavy snow that can stop you in your tracks and send you over the handlebars.
9. Get out there!
Plenty of skiers turn back at the sight of rain, but a lifetime of Pacific Northwest skiing has taught me there’s fun to be had, even when it’s drizzling (or downpouring). Suit up, wear a garbage bag over your gear if you have to, and set out into the mess. Slushy, soft turns await.
Photo by Amanda Monthei.