Fixin’ to Retire after 47 years at Mt. Baker Ski Area
Photo: Kevin T. McHugh
“I’m personally very proud of being involved in helping bring Baker to what it is now. It’s pretty amazing to be able to be involved in the original ideas of what we wanted the ski area to become and then to actually get to build it. My kids learned on the ski runs that I built and my friends, family and I have got to enjoy the place. It’s gratifying to see that what we hoped for is actually mostly all there now. It’s been a hell of an experience and I’m going to miss it all; the weather, the people, the view, the challenges. I really enjoyed it all.”
As a valued member of our core year-round crew since 1974, one look at Boyd Starr’s mountain hands and you will see some of the hands that literally helped build the ski area and keep it running for the past 47 years. If you’ve ridden a chair lift, skied on Daytona or White Salmon, turned on a light in a lodge, pulled into a freshly plowed parking lot or enjoyed one of the lodges, then you have benefited from Boyd’s work.
Back in 1974, current President, Duncan Howat, went to Bellingham Technical College one day to the diesel mechanics instructor, looking to hire the top mechanic in the program. The instructor quickly pointed to Boyd and he was hired on the spot. There were only 4 chair lifts at the time and the ski area was only open on weekends. Boyd began his career by helping construct the original Chair 5 and then was involved in the construction of Chairs 6, 7, and 8 as well. He and just a few of the original core crew built pretty much all the ski runs on the Chair 8 area and he and one or two others constructed the upper Heather Meadows parking lot and White Salmon parking lot.
Boyd covered a lot of work territory here at Baker, from lift attendant to lead diesel mechanic, Operations Manager to ski run developer, parking lot and chair lift builder to grooming and snow removal operations. Over his decades at Baker he developed many career-long relationships with local vendors and suppliers.
As part of a Navy family, Boyd grew up on Whidbey Island. In Junior High he heard friends talking about skiing and he really, really wanted to learn how. A friend of Boyd’s convinced him to join the ski bus to Stevens Pass ($2 bus fare, $4.50 lift ticket and 75¢ ski rentals) and he headed to the mountains. In high school he drove pea harvesters , swathers and tractors and discovered his talent and interest in machinery. As soon as he got his driver’s license he bought his first of many well-traveled snow rigs; a 1959 VW Bug. Rigged with a special ski rack, the VW logged the first of more than 19,000 (yes, 19,000) trips on the Mt. Baker Highway 542. Boyd’s most recent work Chevy 4×4 work truck has over 680,000 miles on it – nearly all on Hwy 542.
While the size of the ski area and facilities have certainly changed over the years, Boyd especially marks the passing of time with how much the machinery, snow cats and start up challenges have changed. The original rope tow and chair lift engines he worked on were turn crank start-ups, there were no cell phones at the ski area for over half his career and can you imagine how much snow the crew would arrive to for weekend start up after the ski area being closed all midweek? “Ridiculous amounts of snow to deal with,” Boyd remembers. “After some very challenging drives up with snow blowing up over the truck hood, we would arrive to amazing snow drifts and deep, deep snow. It was huge effort just to dig into the shop sometimes to get what we needed to start digging out the chair lifts and get ready for the weekend operations. Then, it would snow 3 feet overnight and we would start all over again. After 47 years of getting up at 3:30 am to drive to the early start up shifts, Boyd admits “it’s now a bit weird not getting up at that time. “
In amongst all the work, Boyd also really enjoyed the place. His favorite go-to powder route was a few hot laps on The Chute, then down North Face over to Gabl’s and yes, often with first tracks on all. Stories of night snowmobile runs to “check on equipment,” the stars on a clear night from Pan Dome and the many co-workers and friends of the Baker community bring an easy smile.
Now Boyd and his wife are planning to venture off of Highway 542 and take time to see more of the USA. We wish you well Boyd, and thank you for your hard work, enthusiastic way, amazing problem-solving and technical abilities and mountain stamina. Cheers to a hell of a run!