by Kai Vieira da Rosa
Whatcom Events and the Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce hosted the 44th annual Ski to Sea Race and Blossomtime Parade.
Whatcom President Kathi Hiyane-Brown was selected to lead the floats as the Grand Marshal for the Blossomtime Parade at the annual Ski to Sea event.
Starting on Memorial Day weekend the first event was the Blossomtime Parade in downtown Bellingham.
The parade is a warm up event to get the community excited for the Ski to Sea race.
The Grand Marshal is in charge of driving in the lead float that everyone follows.
Whatcom is celebrating its 50th anniversary and wanted to celebrate with the community in “as many events as possible,” Director of Advancement Sue Cole said.
“The idea of Kathi being the Grand Marshal came to be after the Chamber of Commerce and WCC agreed that Whatcom Community College could use this event to help spread awareness of its anniversary,” Cole said.
Behind the Grand Marshal float were students and professors of Whatcom Community College walking in the crowd handing out “Keep on Growing” stickers.
“That’s our motto for our summer classes,” Cole said. “We just want to get as many people aware as possible.”
The Ski to Sea race started Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend.
From Mt. Baker to Squalicum Harbor, contestants were competing in 70-degree weather, the heat was exhausting, racers said.
Starting at 7:30 a.m., 334 teams made their way down to Bellingham Bay. The final team finished after 7 p.m.
In total there were 15 different divisions, all covering a varity of racers ranging from competitive to family divisions.
Ski to Sea has been a tradition in Bellingham for over 40 years, but two-thirds of the competitors this year were doing it for the first time, said Anna Rankin, Ski to Sea Operations Assistant.
Tommy Tradal of the Kenmore Squires competed in his first Ski to Sea this past year, partaking in the downhill skiing leg.
“I learned about the race from a neighbor of mine who had participated in the race previously and he informed me that their team needed someone to fill the downhill ski leg of the race,” Tradal said. “Since I’m a proficient skier I decided to join the team.”
Ski to Sea is the largest multi-sport relay race in the world. New competitors will experience a race unlike any other, Tradal said.
“I think that the coolest thing about the race is that the course covers such diverse amounts of terrain. I’ve never been a part of something as unique as this,” Tradal said.
Tradal said he didn’t expect his downhill skiing event to be so hard.
Competitors hike up about 1.25 miles and 800 feet of elevation with their skis and poles before they step into their skis.
“This leg really should be renamed as the ‘uphill climb’ leg because in this leg you end up hiking up a ski run to the top where you then snap into your skis and ski down the mountain for about three or so minutes,” Tradal said.
Each year local shops are either involved with Ski to Sea or benefit from the event.
Patrick Kennedy, Outreach Market Coordinator, at the Bellingham REI said every year they see an increase in sales partially due to the increase in tourism Ski to Sea brings in.
“On Memorial Day weekend, REI holds their national anniversary sale, so it’s great timing incomewise,” Kennedy said. “We’ve always wanted to compete in Ski to Sea, but the amount of people coming to shop that weekend means we need employees available at all times.”
REI has collaborated with Whatcom Events before, but both organizations now realized they are benefiting the most by keeping things separate, Kennedy said.
Whatcom Events is now planning the 45th Ski to Sea race and Blossomtime Parade.
Despite low returns in 2016 when Whatcom Events reported the first net-loss after the race, they said they have no plans on ending it any time soon.