Looking at it from a positive angle, it was a fantastic weather year for Mt. Baker Ski Resort near Bellingham, Washington just south of the Canadian border. The resort, which is extremely influential in the snowboarding world and boasts some of the best inbounds terrain in the Lower 48, was blessed with a large snowpack–over 840 inches of snow fell and the mountain was open until the end of April. And it all came in cold says resort manager Duncan Howat.
But unfortunately, the season was marred by the disappearance of three snowboarders in two separate incidents. In November, Jake Amancio, 22, and Drew Lenz, 20, disappeared while in the backcountry. Their car was parked in the Heather Meadows area, and many surmise they were just outside of the resort’s boundaries during a pre-season excursion.
While the pair’s disappearance didn’t fall under the Mt. Baker jurisdiction, the mountain lent its resources to try and help find the two young men who are still missing (no one is quite sure where they ended up). Then, last weekend, snowboarder Vitaliy Datskiy, 24, who’d been missing since January was found by a search group that reportedly included family.
Howat told me that Datskiy had disappeared in a cliffed-out area of the resort that was well signed. Howat and resort officials theorized that he went off a cliff and may have somehow been buried when he landed. This isn’t the first time people have disappeared in the Mt. Baker area, Howat said. “But you never get used to it,” he added. “We want everyone to come back home.”
Resorts across the country experience similar scenarios on a yearly basis. Squaw Valley had a snowboarder go missing this season. His body was found in March. That doesn’t make it any easier for resort heads to deal with. But is there more resorts could do to prevent accidents like these? “We just keep trying to do our best to educate people,” Howat said. “We take into account the reports from the Northwest Avalanche Center, we put out deep-snow warnings and tree-well warnings. But most of these resorts are on Federal Land and that land belongs to everyone. People have to make their own decisions.”
It’s a reality of the ski resort business. These facilities that make our powder dreams come true are, quite literally, at the mercy of the mountains.