Artist Point Splitboarding
Mt. Baker wilderness area is home to some of the best inbounds and out of bounds powder skiing in the Pacific Northwest. The area caters to all abilities and experience levels. For a quick safe and easy ski tour under the ropes, the Artist Point Vista trail has to be number one.
During the summer there is a road that starts at the Heather Meadows parking lot and switchbacks all the way to the top of Artist Point. But in the winter, that road becomes almost invisible and creates the perfect access to skin up it. Because this is the backcountry, precautions need to be taken in order to come back safely. Firstly, I don’t recommend you do this hike/tour if you don’t have any experience in the backcountry. It seems that every year several snowshoe hikers are killed because they are unable to spot basic avalanche terrain. That being said, if you are equipped with a beacon, probe, shovel, and the ability to use them, Artist Point is the perfect little warm up to backcountry/side-country ski touring.
The start of this tour begins right at the Heather Meadows parking lot and involves a mellow skin up to where the covered switch backs of the road start. This flat rolling area is known as Grandma’s House and is a very safe place to snowshoe, hike, and just play in the snow. If you keep traveling south through the “Grandma’s House” area you will begin to see the ski area and people skiing and snowboarding down the hill. Once you get to the ski area you should hug the ski area boundary rope and start a fairly aggressive uphill skin to the backcountry gate. When you hit the backcountry gate you should think to your self, “Do I have the skills to be able make sound decisions and rescue my buddies if something happens?” If so, then head on out.
To your right is an area called Blueberry Chutes and it’s a very fun run on the ski out. As you climb towards Artist Point you will reach a mid level area about 100 meters up past the backcountry gate. This area is known as Austin Pass and is really more visible in the summer than winter. Once you hit Austin Pass, continue on heading south towards Artist Point. Directly out of Austin Pass is an area called Grandma’s Ladder, which is a very aggressive ski/bootpack up the ridgeline of Artist Point. It is also a known avalanche path, so be sure to either make a cautious route hugging the trees or continue on the road past the ladder. This area is where the other set of switchbacks are in the summer and provide the perfect cat-track walk access to the point. Be sure to avoid the last switchback as it is a known avalanche path and terrain trap. Once you’re at the top of Artist Point, take your time to enjoy the scenery and soak it all in because it’s one of the best views the Northwest Cascades have to offer. If the weather is clear you will have a full 360 degree view of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuskan. Even in the summer in the summer months the view from Artist Point is incredible and I highly recommend it for anyone who doesn’t like being around snow.
A nice ski run is to head straight down from Artist Point the way you climbed up, but instead of following the road back down to the parking lot, head straight and into a run called Swift Creek. Swift Creek is a mellow run that is good for beginners or high avalanche danger days. The only downside is that you need to stop at some point or you get stuck in this long gully and in an unsafe area. A quick skin back out of the creek and you’re right at Austin Pass. Ski back down the hill and either head back into the ski area or drop in on your left at Blueberry Chutes. The spot is named Blueberry Chutes because in the summer there is a patch of blueberry bushes that really hold onto the snow well, providing a stable area to ski. After a short walk back into the ski area, you can take the cat track all the way back to your car. Overall Artist Point offers some of the best ski touring in all of the cascades. Hopefully you too can get out and enjoy it.