Ski to Sea
by Kitty Bond
Race day is May 27 this year. As soon as the official time hits 7:45 a.m., the first leg of the journey takes off.
The Mount Baker Marathon started in 1911 as “America’s original adventure race,” but lasted only three years because of the dangerous race conditions.
After hibernating for nearly 60 years, a revised version of the marathon was born in 1973. Ski to Sea is now a 93.5 mile relay race from Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay featuring seven different sports. Each of the 500 teams has eight members, competing in the seven legs (two people per canoe).
Race day is May 27 this year. As soon as the official time hits 7:45 a.m., the first leg of the journey takes off. The cross-country skiers lead the competition in a four-mile sprint to the second leg, the downhill ski/snowboard. The most challenging part of this leg is the hike. The skiier/boarder must first trek up to North Face, and then to the top of Chair One. At this point, they must quickly set into their gear and ride down to meet the runner.
The runner takes off along the Mt. Baker Highway, pounding eight miles of pavement to reach the road biker. Road bikers are stationed at the DOT shed, and ride down the winding road to Everson. Luckily, enthusiastic bystanders along the 42-mile route are there to hand cold drinks to appreciative riders.
Once a road biker crosses the finish line, one of their canoe team members grabs the timing chip. The 18-mile canoe course leads the two-person crew into Hovander Park in Ferndale, where the sixth leg participant, the mountain biker, awaits. The biker covers 13 miles of rough terrain to meet up with the kayaker at Zuanich Park. In the last stretch, the kayaker paddles from Squalicum Harbor to Marine Park in Fairhaven, the finish line.
Ski to Sea has seen changes over the years, including its 2010 purchase by Whatcom Events, which intends to make the event environmentally friendly. “We are so excited to eliminate water bottles this year – we’re using Zip 2 Water filtration stations along the race,” said Mel Monkelis, executive director of Whatcom Events. “Zip 2 Water provides large barrels of clean, filtered water to refill racers’ individual bottles.” In recent years, approximately 5,000 disposable plastic bottles have been handed out every year. The 2012 race will provide water bottles only at the DOT shed station, where potable water is not available to fill up the barrels.
Another change this year will be the early release of all race legs, so that competitors may join their teams in Marine Park for the after party and 5:30 p.m. awards ceremony. No teams will be disqualified for early release – their times will simply be added together for the cumulative team total. Other new developments include a volunteer appreciation dinner, expanded beer garden and live band at the DOT station for road bikers and runners.
After the success of last year’s shuttle buses from Boundary Bay to Fairhaven and back again, the buses will be providing rides during the event. “This cuts down not only on fossil fuel use, but on traffic congestion – we want to make Ski to Sea a community friendly event for everyone in Bellingham,” Monkelis says.
More info, visit skitosea.com.