The Slush Cup

Mount Baker is right in the way of almost every storm that comes roaring in from the Northern Pacific

By Warren Miller

After personally narrating my fourth annual feature-length ski film in Seattle in October, 1953, my sponsor, Scott Osborne, suggested that I come up and film the Slush Cup on Mount Baker during the Fourth of July weekend the following summer.

I certainly was not prepared for what the Northwest had to offer with the first-of-its-kind in the world, Slush Cup. This was no build-a-pond with a bulldozer and a sheet of plastic and then fill it with water, but rather a genuine glacial pond full of 34-degree melted snow and floating icebergs.

A skier had to climb quite a ways up the hill to get enough speed to coast across this freezing cold pond. The only prize for the winner of this event was bragging rights. The combination of high-altitude, hot July sun, high blood-alcohol content and wobbly legs offered some fantastic, never-before-seen crashes for my next year’s feature-length ski film audiences.

By 2 p.m., the in-run to the glacial pond was melted slush and icy ruts and hardly anybody was getting across the pond. That problem together with the remaining amount of beer and wine in everybody’s rucksacks was now almost gone.

In the 60 years since showing the 1954 slush Cup at Mt Baker, it has become a tradition at almost every ski resort in the world to try and replicate what happened that day. Unfortunately, with only one camera, I could only do my best to show how much fun, freedom and stupidity can happen when the snow melts in the spring.

Scott Osborne and his partner Olaf Ulland went on to become the largest ski dealer in the Pacific Northwest with ski shops stretching from Portland, Oregon to Bellingham, Washington.

Mount Baker is right in the way of almost every storm that comes roaring in from the Northern Pacific. The storm clouds are tripped on the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island and Mount Baker. As a result about a decade or so ago, Mount Baker had 99 feet of snow on the ski hill. I repeat that number, 99 feet of snow. Try to imagine that amount of snow where you go skiing every Saturday and Sunday. Houses would cave in because there would not be enough people to shovel the roofs, not to mention there wouldn’t be anyplace to put the snow. If that happened in Colorado, the Eisenhower tunnel would be completely shut. Plumbing in all the towns on the I-70 corridor would freeze.

Some friends of mine went up to Baker that Fourth of July weekend to try a little spring skiing. The snow banks in the parking lot were still 35 feet high. You ask how then can they handle that deep snow? They put a bulldozers up on the snow level and then push it over the edge into the parking lot where a rotary snow plow blows it into a truck and they haul it away so that when you drive up from the low lands 30 or 40 miles away where there is no snow.

Yes, the Pacific Northwest is a very unusual part of the world. I know that for a fact because Laurie and I live on a small island in the San Juan’s 8 miles from Canada.

Whenever we go for a boat ride to another island, Mount Baker looms above the horizon, snow-covered 365 days a year. With my memories, my perception of Mount Baker is different than most peoples. The chairlifts run in February and March when there’s 60-plus feet of snow and sometimes they are still running in July with only 35 feet of snow and a glacial lake left.