Ski to Sea

In theory, you could finish this leg without trying, but this isn’t an easy ride

Joshua Hamilton and Aaron Boje of Barlean’s Flax Fanatics set off from the shore at the start of the canoe leg at the 2017 Ski to Sea on the Nooksack River.
Joshua Hamilton and Aaron Boje of Barlean’s Flax Fanatics set off from the shore at the start of the canoe leg at the 2017 Ski to Sea on the Nooksack River.


Year leg added to the race: 1973 (one of the original three).

Where: On the Nooksack River, from Everson’s Riverside Park to Hovander Homestead Park outside Ferndale.

Course length: About 18 1/2 miles.

Approximate time to complete: One hour, 45 minutes for top finishers, two hours or more for everybody else. The average time in 2017 was 2 hours, 22 minutes and the the first finisher completed the leg at 12:11 p.m.

Course description: It’s not just a lazy ride down the Nooksack River. Competitors will have to navigate a course that is considered class 1 (on a 1 to 6 scale), but there are plenty of deceptive hazards due to logjams, submerged logs, undercut trees and other obstructions. Water level will play a key role in the speed of the river, and it’s likely a number of competitors could go for a swim.

Pre-race meeting: 9:30 a.m. at Riverside Park in Everson.

Recommended departure time from Bellingham: 7:45 a.m.

Timing chip: Receive the timing chip from the road biker, swipe the chip to record the finish time for the road biking leg, canoe to Hovander Homestead Park, pass the chip to the cyclocross biker. The cyclocross rider will swipe the chip to record the finish time for the canoe leg.

2020 CA map (2)


Park Drive, directly in front of the park, will be closed from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. to all vehicles to facilitate the exchange. Traffic between Lynden and Everson will be routed to Van Buren Road and Hampton Road during the exchange time. Parking for participants will be in a field just north of the park, unless it rains. Parking will be distributed throughout the area if the fields are too wet to drive on.

Best place to watch the leg: While any of the bridges over the Nooksack River between Everson and Ferndale offer a great view, the best place may be any beaches near the Guide Meridian and Hannegan bridges if the water levels aren’t too high. If it’s a nice day, bring a picnic lunch.

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David Scherrer and Susan Bennerstrom paddle down the Nooksack River during the canoe leg of the 2017 Ski to Sea. Evan Abell


▪ Racers can take canoes to the park Saturday, May 28, and Boy Scouts will watch them overnight.

▪ Racers should remember that they must haul their canoes down the dirt path to the launching area. Boy Scouts also will be available to help haul the canoes.

▪ Loose-fitting clothing is best. Keep in mind you’ll have to wear a life vest. Wear a jacket that you can easily take off because you’ll work up a sweat.

▪ You can tip over. Be ready for this. Wear clothing that air-dries fast.

▪ Stay in the middle of the river. Paddling from side to side won’t give racers an advantage.

▪ Coast Guard-approved life jackets must be worn at all times during the leg. The river also will be closed to all boats but those in the competition and safety boats.

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Steve Dempsey, right, of Bellingham, helps teammates Eric Gerstl and Michael Hammer out of the Nooksack River at the canoe to cyclocross transfer of the 2017 Ski to Sea. Paul Conrad For The Bellingham Herald

2017 Top finishers

Men: Eric Gerstl/Michael Hammer (Boomer's Drive-In) 1:46:03

Women: Veronica Wisniewski/Gwyn Howat (Brandon Nelson Partners) 1:53:44

Mixed: Doug Ritchie/Chris Gutiérrez Flynn (Squires of Kenmore) 1:52:37

Key numbers

8.5: Approximate average current speed of the Nooksack River (in mph) at high river levels. That speed varies dramatically from year to year.

1:46:03: Time of last year’s top canoeing tandem, Eric Gerstl and Michael Hammer of Boomer’s Drive-In. The canoeing leg is annually the longest leg of the race.

2: Competitors for each team in the canoe leg — the only Ski to Sea leg that isn’t an individual event.