The snow is back but the Nooksack River will once again be slow as Ski to Sea returns to its classic course Sunday, May 29.
What’s more, canoeists in that part of the race will have to get out of their boat soon after the start of the leg, carry it up to 200 yards, and then get back into the river.
As for the weather, the race likely will start under showers or rain before conditions clear up later in the day.
First, the good news
From the skiing start at Mt. Baker Ski Area to the kayaking end at Marine Park, the 93-mile relay race from mountain to bay will revert to the format recognizable to past participants.
“What surprised me from last year was how attached people were to the classic course,” new executive director Mike Trowbridge said.
In 2015, the cross-country and downhill ski legs at the beginning were canceled because there was so little snow in the mountains. Organizers replaced them with an alpine running leg to start the race and a mountain biking leg to end it all.
“The snowpack is back. We’ve got a course that’s very similar to how it’s been in the past,” Trowbridge said. “It’s pretty much business as usual.”
Then, the heavy lifting
You can thank winter storms for changing the Nooksack River enough that race organizers are mandating that canoeists get out of their boat about 1.5 miles into the start of their leg, in an area that’s been nicknamed “Maddog Corner.”
“The river is very dynamic, always changing,” Trowbridge said.
What used to be a large gravel bar has been worn down and one section has been undercut, according to Trowbridge.
Racers will be directed out of the left river channel in the area, which is believed to be beyond the skill level of most participants.
“The channel has the potential to be hazardous,” he said. “We’re going to eliminate that hazard by directing people around it with mandatory portage. If you don’t do the portage, you’ll be disqualified.”
People will be there on race day to help direct canoeists. And, as usual, there will be safety boats and crews on the river.
Canoeists also can expect to have to work harder.
Like last year, the river’s flow is low. And that means people can expect times that are 20 minutes slower than usual.
Just like last year, the race will start 15 minutes earlier at 7:30 a.m. The goal is to get kayaks off fickle Bellingham Bay earlier, because waves and winds can kick up in the afternoon.
That means pre-race meetings for each leg will start that much earlier and Mount Baker Highway at Canyon Creek Road in Glacier will close at 7:15 a.m. So competitors, volunteers and spectators heading for the mountain should leave at least 15 minutes earlier than they have in the past, or at the suggested departure time of 4:45 a.m. on race day.