Master of the hill: Bellingham skier and his team epitomize Ski to Sea spirit

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 23, 2014 

Ski to Sea: Jon DeWitt,

Jon DeWit has been manning the downhill skiing leg for his Ski to Sea team, Fairhaven Archer Ale House, since 1998. The team is regularly among the top Masters men's teams to finish and even compete for top-10 finishes overall.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Jon DeWitt perfectly captures the spirit of Ski to Sea.

DeWitt, an avid cyclist, has nonetheless competed regularly in the downhill ski leg since 1988, and his Masters team of over-40 men always bid seriously to make the podium in their division by finishing in the top three while pushing hard for a top-10 finish overall.

But ask the affable 50-year-old sports fan what he also loves about the event and he can now respond with great gusto, "We have the closest pub to the finish line!"

Fairhaven's Archer Ale House, a community institution, is the new sponsor of DeWitt's team, which most recently was sponsored by Fairhaven Runners and Walkers. About a decade ago, DeWitt's team and Amjay Screenprinting combined competitive forces.

"We're actually getting a little faster (in relation to the competition) in recent years," DeWitt said. "We're creeping back up. We were 11th overall last year - one of our best recent finishes - and we expect to be at least as strong. I think our best overall finish was sixth some years back. And we made the podium with third in the Masters men. That's pretty much our realistic goal, since the first two Masters teams bring in several former Olympians."

DeWitt, who played football for Sehome in the early 1980s, has rarely left the ski slopes since he was in fifth grade, but he's also all about mountain bikes and road bikes.

"One year I did the mountain bike leg, but the rest have all been downhill skiing," said DeWitt, the father of former Lynden basketball standout Jake DeWitt, who now plays for Greenville College in Indiana. "I've missed only one year of Ski to Sea since 1988."

The team includes cross country skier Vern Latta, runner Jeff DeWitt (Jon's brother), road biker David Neubeck, canoe racers Morris Arthur and Brad Clements, mountain biker Jeff Clements and kayaker Peter Marcus.

"Brad is from British Columbia and the rest of us are all Whatcom County guys," said DeWitt, who works in outside sales for Bobcat West. "Vern, David and Peter are new to our team this year. Our average age is about 48."

DeWitt is among thousands of locals who treasure the entire Ski to Sea experience.

"It's my favorite day of the year," he said. "I want to be skiing until I'm 80 and having a tasty pint afterward. I absolutely love the camaraderie and the relationships you build. I also love the stories."

He loves to tell the tale of an Irish runner who drank about 10 beers the night before the race at DeWitt's home, "when the rest of us have only one or two. Then he went off to some bar in Birch Bay and ran home barefoot. He goes to sleep in our van and halfway up the mountain it starts snowing and blowing and the only thing this guy said was, 'I hope it blows hard because the bleeping skinny guys don't like the wind.' He's completely hung over, but he winds up with the second-fastest running leg in the whole race!"

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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