written by Cathy Carroll | photo by Grant Gunderson
Andy Sahlfeld, 46, has one of the world’s best winter commutes, albeit an early one. He rises well before dawn in an A-frame at 4,200 feet at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, walks out the door to a chairlift, and rides 2,000 feet to the Panorama Dome “Pandome” Hut at 5,200 feet, Ski Patrol headquarters. The morning meeting happens outside the hut, where Sahlfeld delegates duties of the day to roughly ten patrollers.
The 1998-99 season, Sahlfeld’s rookie year on patrol, was also the year Mt. Baker set the world record for annual snowfall—1,140 inches, or 95 feet.
“We’d just finished our avalanche control, and one team member wasn’t there,” Sahlfeld said. “It turned out he had skied on his own, fallen and gotten buried. We found him in time—he almost died—he’d just gotten to the point where he’d stopped breathing.”
The Pandome Hut is close to cliffs with up to 100-foot drops. One patroller is stationed there for rescues, which usually happen once or twice a month. Cliff rescue gear in the hut includes two 100-meter ropes, anchors, belay devices and other high-angle rescue equipment.
Inside the hut, there’s a camp stove, but people usually bring a sack lunch and hot drinks. “We don’t keep food in there because of the occasional pine marten,” Sahlfeld said. “If you don’t watch your stuff, they come out, though they usually don’t like people. Every once in a while, there’s a wild one in there in the morning, and they’re pretty vicious.”