Memorial Day weekend is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, promising sunny skies and above-normal temperatures for the annual Ski to Sea race, one of Whatcom County’s premiere events.
Clear weather with highs ranging from the upper 60s to near 80 degrees is forecast through at least Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle – meteorologist Jeff Michalski sees a warm, sunny race day across Whatcom County on Sunday. He predicts fair skies in the mountains, good weather in the foothills and relatively calm conditions on Bellingham Bay.
Ski to Sea is a seven-leg relay that covers about 93 miles from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Marine Park in Fairhaven. It features cross-country skiing, snowboarding/skiing, running, bicycling, canoeing, cyclocross, and kayaking.
Rarely has the weather cooperated so uniformly, said Mike Trowbridge, the race’s executive director.
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“It looks like there will be decent weather across the entire course,” Trowbridge said.
On race days, skiers, runners and cyclists sometimes will see clouds or rain, while cyclocross racers and kayakers find fair weather closer to Bellingham Bay.
Of biggest concern to race officials is the Nooksack River, where the 18 1/2-mile canoe leg starts at Riverfront Park in Everson and continues to Hovander Homestead Park near Ferndale. Its glacier-fed water has been running high since snow fell in the North Cascades last week and melted in the recent stretch of warm weather.
Trowbridge said he and others studied the river over the weekend and think conditions will be good on Sunday.
“We didn’t see anything that would give us cause of concern on race day,” Trowbridge said. “There are definitely some snags out there, but that’s usual. It’s a river.”
Canoeing was canceled in 2008 because of high river flows from heavy snow that winter. The 2016-2017 season saw more than 800 inches of snow at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, Trowbridge said. But it’s been melting more gradually.
Even so, Trowbridge cautioned there’s always the possibility that a portion of the race could be canceled or changed at the last minute if conditions don’t improve.
If the canoe leg is canceled, cyclocross racers would be allowed to start from Ferndale based on when their team’s bicyclist arrives in Everson, race officials said. That’s what happened when the canoe leg was canceled in 2008, and race officials added two hours to each team’s overall time.
For the Nooksack River, Michalski said the gage height at Ferndale is expected to drop from a peak of 10.67 feet this week to about 8 feet by noon Sunday, according to river flow predictions from the U.S. Geological Survey.
“Ideal,” Trowbridge said.
Sea kayak, a 5-mile zigzag from Squalicum Harbor to the finish line, is another potential problem portion of the race. On race day, forecasters are seeing good conditions on Bellingham Bay, with west-southwest winds from 5 to 10 knots and wind waves to 1 foot, Michalski said.