Rain makes for muddy, sloppy but still festive Ski to Sea race

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 26, 2013 

From the top of Mt. Baker Ski Area to the finish line at Marine Park, the topic of discussion through all seven legs of Ski to Sea was the same: rain.

No one saw the bad weather coming, not even the Seattle office of the National Weather Service. Forecasts in the days before the annual relay race Sunday, May 26, called for partly cloudy skies and some scattered showers.

What racers got instead was a steady soaking from before the dynamite blast that kicked off the cross-country ski leg, at least until Barron Heating's kayaker, Zsolt Szadovszki, was on Bellingham Bay paddling for the finish line.

"We've been spoiled by all the sunny weather the past few years," said cross-country skier Andy Schmidt of Bellingham.

There were a couple dicey corners on the cross-country route, including a slippery downhill on the far end of the course that was causing the more novice skiers to spill. At some points it looked like an episode of "Wipeout."

Despite the rain, cross-country leg chairwoman Sue Cottrell said conditions on the course were better than some years.

"This course is not for beginners, and we occasionally get people who haven't skied," she said of those who couldn't handle the tricky corner.

The two skiing legs still had their colorful regulars - the men in skirts and the women (and one man at least) in tutus. But after the cross-country and downhill legs, the superhero capes drooped a little lower, soaked as they were with rain.

"A soaking wet tutu is less fun," said Lori Solem, a conventionally dressed runner for Bellingham-based Team Wave.

The rain caused one course change. The stairs near the end of the mountain bike leg were so slippery that race organizers re-routed the course around that section. That shortened the leg by about a half mile but was necessary, leg co-chairman John Burley said.

"It was just too dangerous," he said.

Mountain bike racers said they thought that decision was a sensible one.

"That was going to be pretty dicey for most people," said Fred Wiley, who raced for the Nitropaced team that finished among the leaders in the Whatcom County Open Division.

The rainy morning helped make the mountain bike leg from Hovander Homestead Park to Zuanich Point Park more challenging for riders of all experience levels.

"It was a little bit muddier than last year," said Liza Pye, who raced for the Boundary Bay team that took the Competitive Women's Division. "It was harder than last year for sure."

Pye was one of several mountain bikers who rolled into Zuanich with bloody scrapes from spills on the course. She said she went down twice.

Elizabeth Hartsoch, who did the mountain bike leg for the Kulshan Cycles team that placed first in the Whatcom County Women's Division, said she knew what she was in for.

"I have quite a bit of mud behind my eyeballs right now," she said at the end of her leg.

Wet though it was, the absence of wind made Bellingham Bay as still as Lake Padden - a marked change from the past two years, when brisk winds churned up whitecaps and messed up the last leg of the race. In 2011, the kayak leg was called off before some teams could launch, and in 2012, race officials shortened the course and moved it inshore to avoid the roughest water.

Given the soggy conditions, it fit to have the DJ playing "Blame it on the Rain" by Milli Vanilli at Marine Park as some adults and children danced in the downpour - in raincoats and rain boots and under umbrellas - and waited for the kayakers.

"We just hung the bells. Look it, blue skies," said Carol Brumet, finish line co-chair as she pointed to a slice of sky after organizers put up the bells that the racers ring when they cross the finish line.

"We should have hung the bells earlier," she added.

But the rain had let up by the time the first two teams - Barron Heating and Team Aeromech - crossed the finish line.

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