The mass start of Whatcom County’s signature relay is going to look quite different in 2017 – no flailing of ski poles, no off-balanced shuffling of skis and no bodies careening out of control into each other before ending up in a bank of snow.
Ski to Sea announced Monday it will not stage a cross-country skiing leg after discovering that many teams were having difficulties finding athletes willing to compete in that leg of the race.
The May 28 race will now consist of just six legs – downhill skiing, running, road biking, canoeing, cyclocross and kayaking – and seven-person teams.
“When we looked through our registration records and saw that we had so many teams that were full except for a cross-country skier, we knew this was the right choice,” said Anna Rankin, who will be promoted to Ski to Sea race director after the first of the year. “It’s something we have been hearing from racers for years.”
Though the Whatcom Event board of directors has long considered making the move, Rankin said, it wasn’t until a month and a half ago that it made the “unanimous” decision to eliminate the leg that has kicked off the race most of the past 34 years.
“I think we need to stay current and relevant,” Rankin said. “We have to change and adapt a little bit with the times. Time will tell if people really do miss it. ... If we see the number of teams and participants come up, we’ll know we made a solid-gold decision.”
By the same token, Rankin said, if enough people say they miss the leg and registration numbers drop because of the change, the board could consider adding it back for 2018.
Cross-country skiing was added as a leg in 1983, 10 years after the race began, and it has been staged every year since except 2015, when a lack of snow at Mt. Baker Ski Area forced the cancellation of both skiing legs.
“We completely understand there are a lot of teams that compete year after year and they have their teams together, and they will be remiss without that leg,” Rankin said. “But we found there were far more teams struggling to fill that leg.”
Rankin said the board considered adding a new seventh leg, such as the often-requested mountain biking leg, but, “logistically, there was something lacking, and it’s something we’ll continue to look at for the future.”
Registration for Ski to Sea opens Jan. 2, and teams that complete registration and are paid in full before Jan. 14 will receive Ski to Sea pint glasses for each team member and two Ski to Sea growlers.