First Turns: Mt. Baker, WA

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First Turns 0903

November

Beta: When the KeyBank thermometers in Bellingham drop to 40 degrees, the locals get antsy. In the early season, the mountain-1,000 acres and 1,500 vertical feet-can go from bare to buried in a matter of days, and the snow is thick enough to slather the steepest, rockiest pitches. Since Baker is almost always first to open in the Northwest, in November the snow phones get 8,000 desperate calls a day-from anybody with a ski rack within 200 miles.

Opening Dates: The place is usually cranking by mid November, though October openings are not unheard of. Last season's December 14 opening was the latest in 30 years.

Early-Season Snow: Snowmaking? They don't bother. The resort sits between 10,778-foot Mount Baker and 9,127-foot Mount Shuksan, where Northwest weather systems get stuck-and unload. Once the base reaches 30 inches and the Doppler forecasts wet, wet, wet, the bullwheels start turning.

Terrain: Rising 750 feet above the Heather Meadows base to the summit of Panorama Dome, Chair 1 is your best bet. It accesses everything from interstate-wide cruisers to near-vertical gullies.

Biggest Early Season: The earliest opening, October 10, was a three-foot day in 1968, but the best storm streak was November 1998. In 11 days, 159 inches piled up.

Deals: Ticket prices are based on available terrain, and since Baker almost always opens with a bang, the price is almost always full-36 bucks. There's no on-mountain lodging here, but Highway 542 is scattered with crash pads. Lodging deals are scarce, though. Try Mt. Baker Lodging (from $85, mtbakerlodging.com). And there's always the Motel 6 in Bellingham, an hour or so away.

Plan B: Go boulder the folded sandstone cliffs of Chuckanut Mountain in Larrabee State Park, six miles south of Bellingham off I-5.

Nightlife: Kowtow to the beer shrine-a collection of 90 years of hooch history-at the North Fork, the smallest microbrewery on a coast full of small microbreweries. It's 35 miles from Baker on 542.

Info: mtbaker.us, 360-734-6771