Ski to Sea organizers keep an eye on Nooksack River, say rest of race course is good to go

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 23, 2013 

If you want to know how the Nooksack River will be running for this year's Ski to Sea, wait until Saturday, May 25 - the day before the seven-leg relay race that covers about 93 miles from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay.

Will the Nooksack run high and fast for the 181/2-mile canoe leg from Riverside Park in Everson to Hovander Homestead Park outside Ferndale? Or will river levels be lower and slower?

"Saturday is the key," said Tony Velasco, who keeps an eye on the river for Ski to Sea officials.

If it's hot Saturday and snow melts, or if it rains heavily, then the Nooksack - known for changing quickly - will rise.

But if the current weather forecast of cool temperatures and just a chance of showers holds, then the river will continue its downward trend, Velsaco explained.

And if it gets low enough, canoeists might have to launch from a different spot, which would require them to carry their canoes about another 150 feet, according to Ski to Sea race director Pete Coy.

"They're use to it," he said. "They're carrying it quite a distance already."

But officials won't be able to finalize the launch point until race day, Coy said.

People who are running the course ahead of Sunday's race should keep an eye out for standing waves, as well as the usual problem area - called the Whirlpool or Hell's Kitchen - on the river near Noon and Abbott roads, Velsaco said.

Another tricky part of the race, at least when it comes to Mother Nature, is the roughly five-mile kayak leg on Bellingham Bay. Afternoon winds have forced race organizers to shorten or cancel the leg in past years.

"If it doesn't blow too hard, everybody should be having a good time," said Larry Bussinger, who is keeping an eye on bay conditions for the race.

To help with kayak stability, race organizers this year required that the boats be 13 feet or longer.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of snow at Mt. Baker Ski Area for the cross-country ski and downhill ski/snowboard legs, Coy said Wednesday.

"All of the rest of the course looks good," he said, "and we are ready."

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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