The downhill and cross-country ski legs of the annual Ski to Sea race could be canceled this year because organizers of the annual race don’t expect there will be enough snow by race day on May 24.
The snowpack in Washington state’s mountains are near record low levels — ranging from 8 to 45 percent of normal across the Cascade Mountains and 7 percent of normal in the Olympic Mountains.
The race’s first two legs occur at Mt. Baker Ski Area, at an elevation of 4,300 feet.
“We are looking at many different options for the first two legs of the race. These include a mountain trail run, a bike course within the ski area and other options,” announced Pete Coy, executive director for Ski to Sea, on Friday, March 13.
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“We want to make sure that these new courses are safe, competitive and that racers will have the necessary equipment. Whatever sports we substitute for the ski legs of the race will need to occur within the Mt. Baker Ski Area since permits to go outside the ski area will take too long to obtain,” he added.
It’s been a poor ski season. Mt. Baker Ski Area operators announced Sunday, March 8, that they were shutting down until more snow fell.
Coy said race organizers are starting to make contingency plans. A decision will be made by April 1.
He acknowledged there was more snow higher up than the usual start line but “getting racers and timing equipment to those locations may be prohibitive.” No parking or restrooms also are a challenge to moving up higher, Coy said.
Coy said racers shouldn’t expect a replay of 2005, when the first two legs were swapped and their routes moved to best use what little snow remained at the ski area.
For the first time in what was then the race’s 32-year history, organizers decided that downhill racers would start the relay race, and hand off to cross-country skiers. That year’s race started below Austin Pass, toward Table Mountain, uphill and west of the traditional start.
“There is not enough snow to do this in 2015,” Coy said, “but in talking with those racers who participated in 2005, they talk about the fun of making the race different for one year.”
The seven-leg relay race starts at the ski area and ends at Marine Park in Fairhaven. The legs, usually, in order are cross-country ski, downhill ski/snowboard, run, road bike, canoe, cross-country bike and kayak.
Race organizers will meet starting Monday to figure out what to do. Coy said one question for this year is whether to keep the relay component. If that piece is removed, two legs could occur at the same time, for example, and be combined for the team time.
“We could do that with the timing devices we have,” he said.
If enough snow falls, the legs could go on as usual. But Coy isn’t counting on it. (Forecasts also call for warmer and drier weather in the coming months.)
“We certainly do not know what weather conditions will be over the next two months, but if we get enough snow we can run the ski legs of the race normally,” Coy said. “We think this is unlikely so we must plan ahead.”
The poor snowpack also could mean slow times for the canoe leg if the Nooksack River is low come race day. (In the past, snowmelt combined with heavy rains have raised the river’s level.)
Although challenging, Coy said the conditions present a chance to do something different.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”