Ski to Sea returns to its traditional seven legs from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Marine Park this year, what new executive director Mike Trowbridge has termed the “classic” format of Whatcom County’s signature race.
The Sunday, May 29, race is the highlight of two weeks of related fun and games for kids and adults across the county. For the uninitiated, the roughly 93-mile race starts with cross-country skiing, then downhill skiing/snowboarding, running, road biking, canoeing, cyclocross biking, and finally wraps up with a kayak race to the Marine Park finish line in Bellingham.
“It’s really awesome how people in the community have this love for the race as it is,” Trowbridge said. “It was interesting to me how attached people are to the ‘classic Ski to Sea’ — they like the challenges it presents — and you better not change it unless you have a dang good reason to do so.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there are no changes.
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Earlier start time: Following in the footsteps of 2015, Ski to Sea’s opening blast will be at 7:30 a.m., 15 minutes earlier.
“I know it’s an early morning for people,” Trowbridge said, “but our goal is safety and our goal is to get kayakers off the water earlier.”
The ripple effect is that the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office will close Mount Baker Highway 15 minutes earlier at 7:15 a.m., meaning competitors, volunteers and spectators heading for the mountain should plan on leaving earlier than they have in the past.
Pre-race meetings also have been adjusted from previous years to reflect the change.
Cyclocross obstacles added: The newly named cyclocross leg, formerly mountain biking, will incorporate a cyclocross obstacle course in Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale just south of the canoe exchange point, before heading north to Main Street along the Nooksack River dike. The course also will have minor modifications the rest of the way into Bellingham to make it more “point to point” and eliminate obstacles, such as the dreaded railroad tracks, that were part of the course “just for the sake of making it hard,” Trowbridge said.
“We’re trying to make it a true cyclocross course,” he said.
Kayak buoys moved: The course will see some minor modifications with a couple of buoys moving slightly. The buoy nearest the old G-P plant will be moved about 150 feet to help safety boats get a better anchorage, kayak and bay chair Larry Bussinger said, and the final buoy near Marine Park will be located a little farther south to create a better approach angle to the beach.
Why was last year’s race not the classic format?
Last year’s snowpack was dismal, leading to a statewide drought. It also meant no snow, which left organizers scrambling for how to deal with the race’s first two legs.
The snow legs were replaced with a new alpine running leg to start the race and a mountain biking leg to finish it off
Why didn’t organizers keep those legs or add them to the classic seven?
As Trowbridge noted, people loved the classic race. And with a solid snowpack in the mountains, it was time to return to the cross-country and downhill skiing legs.
We’ve got this tradition, and we’re happy to get back to running the race the way it’s supposed to be run this year.
Ski to Sea race executive director Mike Trowbridge
“You take either of those legs away, and it just wouldn’t be what we’ve come to expect from Ski to Sea,” Trowbridge said.
Adding an eighth leg is not so easy, as organizers found out last year when they scrambled to replace the two snow legs. Some proposed race changes in 2015 were nixed because they would have sent hundreds of racers through environmentally sensitive areas or onto congested roads.
The mountain bike leg that was added last year had to cross railroad tracks, and a train arrived just as the first racers were riding the course. Plus it moved the finish line, eliminating the classic moment as racers finished by ringing the ceremonial bell.
“We’ve talked for years about changing the race up,” Trowbridge said. “From my perspective, one of the major takeaways from last year is that it is really, really, really hard to change how the race is laid out now. Even if you could, a lot of people wouldn’t want you to. ... The race is as it is now for a reason. Sure, it would be nice to add a mountain biking leg and do this and do that, but there is no silver-bullet easy idea on how to do it.
“We’ve got this tradition, and we’re happy to get back to running the race the way it’s supposed to be run this year,” Trowbridge said. “We’ll make tweaks here and there, but it’s just continued refinement.”