Ski to Sea

Beavers Tree Service wins 2016 Ski to Sea Race

Beavers Tree Service has won the 2016 Ski to Sea Race.

The team’s kayaker crossed the Marine Park finish line and rang the ceremonial bell at about 1:54 p.m.

It’s a historic win as a Whatcom County division team took the overall prize for the first time in at least 20 years.

It was also a very special win for Beavers. They ran the race in honor of former team member David Williams, who was slain in Chilliwack earlier this year. He got into an argument with someone and was shot to death, according to news reports.

“Every bit of this win is in honor of David Williams,” kayaker Brandon Nelson told KGMI radio at the finish line. “We had an unfair advantage. We had nine athletes this year. David Williams was competing with us.”

Sensible.Technology, which had been neck and neck with Beavers for much of the race, came in second. Sensible was competing in the Masters division, while Beavers was in Whatcom County Open.

Boomers Drive-In came in third overall, despite major trouble in both biking legs. The team won the Competitive Open division, which is usually the division that takes the overall race.

They were followed by Northwest Behavioral Health, VanDammage, Aeromech and Peoples Bank.

Boomers’ bikers cursed

The cyclocross rider for Boomers Drive-In had the chain come off his bike and hit a gate during his ride.

Still, he managed to hold down third place overall.

Earlier in the road bike segment, the Boomer’s rider crashed and dislocated his shoulder, possibly breaking his collarbone. Despite the pain, he continued on.

Could be historic win for Whatcom team

If Beavers Tree Service pulls out the victory, it would be the first time in at least 20 years that a team in a Whatcom County division won the overall race.

Looking at records going back to 1996, no team in a Whatcom division has won the overall race. Beavers is competing in the Whatcom County Open division.

Beavers has been the top Whatcom County team multiple times.

Beavers entered kayak in the lead, with Sensible.Technology just behind. Sensible competes in the Masters division.

The kayakers are expected in Marine Park shortly after 1:30 p.m.

Beavers Tree Service takes lead going into final leg

Beavers Tree Service took the lead going into the final leg of Ski to Sea.

The team’s kayaker entered the water just about 1 p.m., followed closely by the paddler from Sensible.Technology.

Sensible.Technology had the lead after canoe but lost the front spot about halfway through the newly revamped cyclocross leg.

Those two teams continued to have a large lead over the rest of the racers.

Leaders going into cyclocross

Sensibile.Techology was the first to finish the canoe leg, followed by Beavers Tree Service. The two teams are in different divisions.

Those teams were close but had a big lead on the rest of the pack.

Weather change saved kayak leg

Had Ski to Sea been Saturday, the race would have ended a leg early.

During the pre-race meeting for the final leg, kayak coordinator Mac Carter said Saturday was a windy mess and they would have canceled the leg, changing the finish line to the end of cyclocross.

Not Sunday, however. A weather change calmed Bellingham Bay, and as of 12:30 p.m. the kayak leg was on as scheduled.

The fastest racers are expected to reach the finish line maybe as early as 1:30 p.m.

Low river makes canoe a challenge

The first teams have put canoes in the water.

At the exchange, Sensible Technology had the lead, followed by Beavers Tree Service, Boomer’s Drive-In and VanDammage.

Despite the rain Saturday into Sunday morning, the Nooksack River remains low.

“This year is going to be a little different, because there's no water in the river,” was the announcement made at the pre-race meeting.

Specifically, about 1.5 miles down the course, at a spot called Mad Dog, about 1 1/2 miles from launch, canoeists will hit a gravel bar. They’ll have to haul the canoe out of the water, run about 200 yards with it and get back in. In close races it can be a challenge because only canoe at a time will be allowed at the portage spot.

Michael Finley, the cyclist with the Boomer’s Drive-In team, crosses the finish line at Everson’s Riverside Park after biking about 15 miles with a dislocated shoulder he sustained in a fall on Sunday, May 29, 2016. Caleb Hutton

Road bike crash

Boomer’s Drive-In was in third place after the run. Road biker Michael Finley (shown above) was headed around a bend when his bike hit a ditch, send him crashing at what he estimated was 30 mph.

Finley dislocated his shoulder and may have broken his collarbone. Still, the devoted rider got back on and completed the course. He crossed the road bike finish line in fourth place.

Medics immediately greeted him. Shortly after finishing, he was sitting in the back of an ambulance getting evaluated.

Flat tire causes lead change

Aeromech was in the lead after the run. But then rider Jamie Strangeland got a flat tire high up on the course, slowing him down. Sensible Technology took over the top spot. Aeromech fell several spots.

Leaders on road bike section

Sensible Technology has taken the lead from Aeromech.

The Aeromech rider, Jamie Strangeland, apparently got a flat tire high up on the course, slowing him down.

Boomer’s Drive-In, which had been in third place after the run, apparently had its road biker crash. The rider went down with a possible broken collarbone. However, that rider got back on the bike and made it through the rest of the course. Medics at the transition point were checking the rider.

Beavers Tree Service then took over second, followed by Boomers.

In the ongoing battle among women’s teams, Kulshan Cycles had a slight lead over the Boundary Bay Brewery women after the running leg.

“Like skiing on a Slurpee”

Heavy rain and spring temperatures made a mess of the snow on the Ski to Sea Race’s first two legs, according to participants.

“It’s like skiing on a Slurpee,” said Sabrina Grecu, the downhill skier for Boundary Bay Brewery Women.

But Grecu and other competitors said they are glad to be back on the slopes, after a lack of snow in 2015 forced organizers to remove the first two skiing legs from the race.

World-class competition

Stian Hoelgaard, a world-class Nordic skier, gave defending champion Aeromech a huge advantage on the first leg of the Ski to Sea Race, finishing the four-mile cross-country skiing course in 20 minutes, 6 seconds — more than two minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.

Hoelgaard, 24, is from Norway.

Aeromech’s downhill skier, Max Taam, 33, of Aspen, Colo., is a four-time member of the U.S. National Ski Mountaineering Team that competes in the annual world championships. Ski mountaineering is an endurance race that requires skiing uphill on ultralight skis with climbing skins, taking the skis off to climb up and down steep pitches, and downhill skiing through difficult terrain.

Sounds like good practice for Ski to Sea.

Aeromech takes early lead

Defending champion Aeromech has grabbed the early lead in the Ski to Sea Race, leading through the first two legs.

Sensible Technologies is in second place after the cross-country ski and downhill legs. Beavers Tree Service is third, followed by Birch Manufacturing and Monkey Wrench Gang. Boundary Bay Women is the first women’s team to complete the first two legs.

The conditions at Mt. Baker Ski Area are gray and wet, as the cross-country leg began in a cold, driving rain. Foggy conditions are making it difficult for teammates to see downhill skiers climbing up the slope on the second leg.

Wet, mushy conditions

The Ski to Sea Race started with a drizzle that turned into a downpour as the relay race returned to its classic course on Sunday, May 29.

Unlike last year, this race actually has the “ski” thanks to the snowpack showing up so the cross-country and downhill ski legs can occur.

“It was good to be back,” said Mike Hagen, 53, who was competing in the downhill ski leg on a masters team called Sensible Technologies.

Hagen, from Colorado, sat out last year’s race.

Race is under way

Beginning in wet, mushy conditions, cross-country ski racers kicked off the 2016 Ski to Sea Race under rainy skies Sunday morning, May 29.

Thanks to a healthy snowpack, the race returned to its classic format, albeit starting 15 minutes earlier than usual.

At the firing of the 7:30 a.m. starting cannon, cross-country skiers began the first of seven legs. More than 320 teams were expected to compete in the adventure relay race from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Marine Park, well down from the high of more than 500 teams a few years ago.

Cross-country ski racers then hand off to downhill skiers or snowboarders, who are followed by the runners, who race 8 miles, dropping 2,200 feet in elevation. After that comes 42 miles of road biking and 18 1/2 miles of canoeing on the Nooksack River. Canoeists no longer need worry about the dreaded Mixmaster, a swirling current that spun them around in years past. But the slow-moving river might be a slog for paddlers.

The recently renamed cyclocross section, formerly mountain bike, covers 13 miles, leading to the last five miles of kayaking. Racers will scramble out of their kayaks once they reach Marine Park in Bellingham, then run to the finish and ring the ceremonial bell.

It will take an estimated six or more hours for the top teams to complete the roughly 93 miles.

Aeromech won the 2015 race, which was altered because of no snow on the mountain. Race organizers opted to add an alpine run at the start and a mountain bike leg at the end to make up for the two skiing legs that had to be canceled.

Attend the fun

Whether you are racing or just watching, there are two big celebrations around the finish line. Ski to Sea organizers have food booths, a beer garden and other festivities in Marine Park. Meanwhile, the Fairhaven Festival in the historic section of Fairhaven starts at 10 a.m. and has two music stages, children’s activities and food and beer.

Streets get busy and parking is difficult to find near the finish or Fairhaven. Whatcom Transportation Authority runs extra buses on Route 14 between Western Washington University and the Ski to Sea festival in Fairhaven. Free parking at WWU’s Lot C (by Wade King Student Recreation Center, on Bill McDonald Parkway at West College Way). Buses will depart every 15 minutes starting at 11:30 a.m. from a sheltered bus stop on the west side of Bill McDonald Parkway. The last departure to Fairhaven will be at 7:15 p.m. Route 401, the “Red Line,” will run every 30 minutes between the Railroad Avenue station downtown and Fairhaven.

Riders pay $1 per trip. All valid WTA bus passes will be accepted.

Related stories from Bellingham Herald