Ski to Sea

‘To get a win, there’s very little room for mishaps’ in Ski to Sea race

Boomer’s Drive-In has a chance for a three-peat in this year’s Ski to Sea race on Sunday, May 26.

The men’s team was the first to cross the finish line at Marine Park in Fairhaven and ring the bell last year and in 2017. That means it was the overall race winner as well as taking the top honor in its competitive open division. Those years marked the first such wins for Boomer’s.

In both years, Beavers Tree Service came in second overall and won its Whatcom County open division.

The 93-mile multi-sport relay race goes from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay. Its seven legs, in order, are cross-country ski, downhill ski/snowboard, downhill run, road bike, canoe, cyclocross bike and then kayak.

Here are some of the things you need to know about the teams, including why they do what they do.

What is Boomer’s planning this year to reach its three-peat?

A: “Nothing different than in the past,” said Mischa Burnett, who has been putting together Boomer’s teams since the business started sponsoring them in 2005. “Get the right people on the team, be sure everyone is ready to go, have a smart and clean race.”

Boomer’s sponsored its second race team starting in 2011. Until Ski to Sea this year, the faster of the two teams was the only one to race in the competitive open division. Starting this year, they both will.

Burnett, a 46-year-old Bellingham resident, will ride the road bike leg for what’s being called Boomer’s B Team.

How did Boomer’s win the last two years?

A: “It’s hard to overstate the quality of the athletes on the top teams. Everyone on those top teams would identify as a serious athlete and would probably build much of their life around their sport. To get a win, there’s very little room for mishaps. If a canoe flips, or a cyclist gets a flat, or someone gets off course, it’s not going to happen,” Burnett said.

“So, it takes running a smart, clean race from top to bottom, and that means really nailing the preparation.”

In 2016, Boomer’s came in third after its road bike racer crashed and its cyclocross rider had the chain come off his bike and he also hit a gate during his ride.

Beavers took first overall that year, becoming the first Whatcom County division team to do so in at least 20 years.

How do you find your racers?

A: “There are different kinds of athletes, and the ones we look for good quality human beings who are insanely dedicated to their sport and completely humble about it,” Burnett said.

“In terms of recruiting, it helps when members of the team are local multi-sport athletes because they tend to race and train with a wide variety of people. Also, the fastest teams usually have captains that have built up a lot of connections in the endurance athlete community, which means staying healthy and active for a long period of time,” he said, adding that this will be his 23rd year racing in Ski to Sea and organizing teams.

Team members include a cross-country skier who is a former Olympian, a former pro mountain bike rider in the cyclocross leg, and a surfski paddler who had been on the Canadian national canoe/kayak team for the kayak leg.

Six of the racers live in Whatcom County.

Why do you think people want to come to Whatcom County to compete in Ski to Sea?

A: “Racers from all over the world know about the Ski to Sea race. It’s a destination race, something that is unique and massive and beyond the single-sport experience most athletes know. Ski to Sea gets them around really high-level athletes who are wired the same but who apply that focus and tenacity to a completely different sport.

“Plus, the competition is extraordinary, so it’s a chance to rub shoulders with people who have been at the top of their sport, or still are, or soon will be. There’s nothing like it anywhere, not on this scale.”

The Beavers Tree Service team has been around for nearly 30 years. You’re a top contender in the Whatcom County open division. What are you hoping for this year?

A: “We’re hoping that everybody has a decent day and keeps it close. It’s always the most fun when it’s close,” said Jacob Hartsoch, a 44-year-old Bellingham resident who co-captains the team with Brian Boatman, owner of Beavers Tree Service.

Hartsoch, who will do the cyclocross bike leg, said he likes the friendly rivalry with Boomer’s, and he’d love to give that team a run for its money.

Boatman, who is one part of the two-man canoe leg, started the team and he sponsors it.

“We were not even near the podium way back then,” Boatman said of the team’s start decades ago, “but this is so fun.”

It’s a different story these days, and Boatman estimates Beavers has won its division some 16 times.

To win, Boatman said, “it takes all the links pulling” just right – stretching to the max without breaking.

How do you find your racers?

A: This is the first year that Beavers hasn’t had to find new team members.

Boatman said that in all the years that he’s fielded a team, this Ski to Sea will be the first to have all of the team members returning. Usually, there’s one racer who’s hurt or has moved out of town, although he has managed to retain a core group year in and year out.

“The name is known so it’s sort of a brand,” Hartsoch said.

Racers who are leaving try to find comparable replacements.

“It’s a small circle of people around Bellingham that are interested in that type of team,” Hartsoch said. “If somebody’s free, word kind of gets out.”

About racing against Olympic-caliber athletes...

A: “We are glad that we get to race against these guys,” Boatman said, adding that allows the local racers to learn from them and have fun with them.

Local athletes benefit in other ways.

“You get a feel for how good you’re doing,” said Boatman, a 63-year-old Bellingham resident.

Why do you keep racing and fielding teams?

A: “Because it’s fun,” Boatman said.

The racing is fun. And there’s the camaraderie with your teammates and other races. Plus, there’s the barbecue that Beavers throws for the racers and their families the day after the race, which draws up to 200 people each year.

Plus, Boatman said, preparing for the race is good for the community in another way.

“It has created such a healthy environment for people of Whatcom County and Bellingham,” Boatman said.

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Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.