Ski to Sea

Ski to Sea running leg an 8-mile-long downhill torture test

Jamie Betz of Legion of Doom makes her way down from the Mt. Baker Ski Area during the 2009 Ski to Sea Race. The leg decends approximately 2,200 feet to the Shuksan DOT shed.
Jamie Betz of Legion of Doom makes her way down from the Mt. Baker Ski Area during the 2009 Ski to Sea Race. The leg decends approximately 2,200 feet to the Shuksan DOT shed. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD


Year leg added to the race: 1975.

Where: From Mt. Baker Ski Area to the Shuksan Department of Transportation shed.

Course length: About eight miles.

Approximate time to complete: Less than 40 minutes for top finishers, a little less than an hour for everyone else

Course description: While the key to the downhill skiing leg is the climb, the running leg is all about the descent. In all, the course drops nearly 2,200 feet (an average 5.2 percent grade). Considering all eight miles are on Mount Baker Highway, that’s a lot of pounding on competitors’ feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips.

Running race chair: Terri Lee and Mark Lee.

Pre-race meeting: 7:45 a.m. at the Heather Meadows Day Lodge.

Recommended departure time from Bellingham: 4:45 a.m.

Timing chip: Receive the chip from the downhill skier/snowboarder, swipe the chip to record finish time of the downhill leg, complete the running leg, swipe the chip to record the finish time for the running leg and hand off to the road biker. The runner is responsible for swiping the chip twice (end of the downhill leg and end of the running leg).

5.2 Average percent downhill grade of the running course, as it descends 2,200 feet from Mt. Baker Ski Area to the Shuksan DOT shed. That makes for eight miles of pavement pounding along Mount Baker Highway.

40 Approximate temperature of spring runoff in creek near the Shuksan DOT shed that some runners take a dip in seeking relief for their aching hips, knees, ankles and feet after the downhill running torture test.

1 Running leg in Ski to Sea this year. The 2015 version of the race also had an alpine running leg.

What’s new in 2016

Queue ’em up: In an effort to help streamline the exchange between the downhill skier/snowboarder and the runner, the race committee has attempted to change how it will organize the runners at the start of their leg. “I don’t think most people will notice anything different,” Ski to Sea executive director Mike Trowbridge said, “but it will make things a lot smoother in how people do that tranistion. It’s just changing some fencing around and creating a little bit different way runners enter the queue.”


Mount Baker Highway will be closed at 7:15 a.m. at Canyon Creek Road in Glacier, going east toward the mountain. Any viewers, participants or additional support vehicles that want to go to the top of the mountain must pass Canyon Creek Road before then. The road will be closed westbound at 7:15 a.m. at the Mt. Baker Heather Ski Area Meadows Day Lodge. No vehicles will be allowed to travel down the mountain before it reopens.

Best place to watch the leg: Heather Meadows Day Lodge at Mt. Baker Ski Area, where spectators can see the handoff from the downhill skier and watch the runner start their way down the mountain. This year, spectators must stay on the mountain until the course is clear and the Mount Baker Highway is re-opened.


▪ Be ready when your downhill skiing/snowboarding teammate approaches. Runners are responsible for recording the finish time for the downhill leg, so don’t get caught trying to keep warm indoors.

▪ Because you will be running mostly downhill, a good tip might be to take some Ibuprofen the day before and on the day of the race to help deal with any pain you might experience during and after the race.

▪ It’s best to wear traditional running garb (tank top, shorts or warmer running gear if the weather warrants). Remember the temperature will change as runners descend and the sun gets higher in the sky.

▪ You may want to put some cloth under the tongues of your shoes to help prevent blisters. Tie your shoes tightly.

▪ Some have raced in their running flats, which are lighter racing shoes. That might make them faster, but doing so will beat up a runner’s legs. Veteran competitors recommend regular running shoes.

▪ Many competitors dunk their legs in the cold water runoff in the canal by the Shuksan Department of Transportation shed or in the nearby river because they believe it helps them recover from the race quicker.

2015 Top finishers

Men: Jordan Welling (Boundary Bay Brewery Men’s) 35:52

Women: Courtney Olsen (Kulshan Cycles) 41:43

Related stories from Bellingham Herald