The 2015 Ski to Sea race finally began Sunday morning, May 24, after months of challenges and changes.
Thanks to the lack of snowpack, this year’s race has no skiing, and it doesn’t end at the sea.
Instead, organizers scrambled to add two legs to replace the downhill and cross-country skiiing ones: an alpine run to start the race and a mountain bike leg to conclude it.
So the seven-leg relay race this Memorial Day weekend goes alpine run, downhill run, road bike, canoe, cross-country bike, kayak, mountain bike.
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Organizers also changed the start time to 7:30 a.m.
About 350 teams are competing. Most have eight members (two in the canoe), but some folks are taking on more than one leg for their team.
Another challenge will be the Nooksack River. In most years canoeists could rely on the river’s momentum to do much of the work. This year the river has been running exceptionally low and slow, because there is little snowmelt to fuel it. That could make it a tough day for those in the canoe. Race organizers estimate it will take the top teams an extra 30 minutes to travel the 18 1/2 miles down the river. For the casual paddler, it could be an extra two hours.
The finish line also has moved. Kayakers traditionally have been the final leg, scrambling out of their boats and running to ring the bell at the finish line. This year they will jump out of their boats and run into Marine Park but then hand off their timing chip to their team’s mountain biker.
Mountain bikers will run to their bikes, jump on and traverse a 7.3-mile new course through Fairhaven trails and along Chuckanut Mountain. They will have a final sprint to the finish line, now by the Index Industries building near the entrance to Marine Park. If they want, they can go through the park for a ceremonial ringing of the bell.
For those not racing, there will be events and entertainment around Marine Park. And, of course, there’s the Fairhaven Festival in the area near Village Books, with its popular live music and beer garden. Most festivities wrap up by 7 p.m.
Parking can be difficult in Fairhaven on race day. Park your car for free at the Western Washington University C lot by Wade King Recreation Center and take Whatcom Transportation Authority bus Route 14 to Fairhaven. It runs every 15-30 minutes between 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Or from the downtown Bellingham WTA station, hop on a Route 401 bus to get to Fairhaven. Bus rides are $1; WTA passes accepted.
For more on the race, go to bellinghamherald.com/ski-to-sea.