The annual Ski to Sea race will be held on May 26 with about 5,000 racers competing in a relay race from Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay.
The race has seven legs which are, cross country skiing, downhill snowboarding or skiing, running, cycling, canoeing, mountain biking, and kayaking. The race’s relay teams consist of people from all over the world and include Olympians and other world class and local athletes.
“The first year I was in management we took out the Hobie Cat [sailboat] leg, because it was too dependent on the wind, and replaced it with sea kayaking,” said Pete Coy, the race director and president of Whatcom Events, the organization that owns Ski to Sea.
Coy has been involved in Ski to Sea since it began in 1973 and has competed in every leg of the race. “We’ll always be looking at other sports.” He said that he is currently looking into snowshoeing and paddle boarding as potential legs for the race but says he’s “not sure what is going to change.”
Coy said the running portion of the race is notoriously bad because it’s constant downhill and pavement for eight miles, but he has “got some big plans in the works right now” to change the run but couldn’t say more.
The recent Boston bombings have made Coy and the rest of the Ski to Sea staff a lot more cautious than in previous years. “Boston was a sad situation, no doubt about it,” Coy said.
“We are going to take extra precautions,” Coy said. “We will have extra law enforcement, bomb sniffing dogs, and we’ll do an entire sweep of the course before the race starts. We have to be cautious to protect our racers, spectators, and volunteers.”
Doug McKeever, who teaches geology and oceanography at Whatcom Community College, has competed in the event six times. He has mostly done the cross country ski leg.
McKeever’s first time competing was in 1989 as a cross country skier when he was a ski instructor. “I had this reputation because of my ski instruction. I was expected to be fast. The skis were so fast [though] that I crashed three times going down the hill…[but] we got 18th place,” he said.
Terry Lewis, a pre-medical student at Whatcom, will compete in this year’s race, making it his third time. One of his hobbies is mountain biking so that’s the leg he’ll be racing in. “Whenever the sun is out, I’m riding,” he said. “I want to be top 50.”
Lewis’ team keeps in frequent contact about their training and other race related things. He said they are in it for the competition as well as a good time and hoping to be top 100 overall.
“My first year competing, I passed like 50 people. That was fun,” Lewis said. “I saw one guy flip over his handle bars [after the front tire got stuck in a puddle]. It was funny because he just kept pedaling even after his back tire left the ground.”
Dean Hagin, Whatcom’s Learning Center Director, competed in last year’s downhill ski leg. “The fellowship of our team was the best part of it,” he said.
“During the race we still had the fun group experience. There was a special excitement when I saw [my teamate’s] expression as she came over the hill [to finish the cross country ski leg]. She had a huge smile on her face,” said Hagin.
“You just do the best you can and support each other. That’s what the race is about, [but] it is better to be passing people than them passing you,” said McKeever.
The origin of Ski to Sea can be traced back to a race in 1911 called the Mt. Baker Marathon which ended after its third year due to a few people nearly dying by falling into glacial crevasses.
The Ski to Sea website says the race to the top of Mt. Baker was a publicity stunt aimed at focusing the government’s attention on the region in hope that the North Cascades would be designated as part of the National Park System.
Coy said he has to pay special attention to the weather forecast during the week of the race and think of the ways the sports will be affected. “Because it is an outdoor event we have to be aware of weather conditions,” Coy said. “One year there wasn’t enough snow so we had to switch the locations of the ski legs.”
“In 2010 we had heavy snow and the Nooksack River was too high so we just gave teams a two hour time for the canoe leg. We actually made the mountain bikers wait two hours from when their road biker teammate finished. If we hadn’t, no one would have been at the finish line in time,” he said.
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