Conditions were soggy but competition was fierce at this year’s Ski to Sea, in which 500 teams skied, ran, biked and paddled the brutal 92-mile racecourse from Mt. Baker Ski area to Bellingham Bay.
Alan Finston from team Whatcom County Physical Therapy & Fitness competed for his sixth time as a paddler in the canoe
leg. He said the rain was unprecedented in his Ski to Sea experience.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it rain through the whole race, and it definitely upped the challenge. Every leg was tough, but I think the cross country skiers and mountain bikers had it the worst,” he said. “The skiers were wiping out on the puddles of water, and the mountain bikers were slogging through mud.”
As for the canoe leg, which saw 1,000 racers in 500 canoes travel 18.5 miles of the Nooksack River from Everson to Ferndale, Finston said the river was running slightly higher than average and the rain wasn’t much of an issue. Finston and partner Greg Manning paddled for two hours and 22 minutes, relying on experience and what Finston called a “Jedi mindset” to coordinate paddling without the military-esque “Hut!” that some other teams employed.
“If he sees the bow going one way, he’ll switch and then I’ll switch to the other side,” Finston said. “When we both have to
paddle hard, we can dig because we’re not in a race boat and we don’t have to worry about balancing too much.”
Despite the height of the river being an ideal 7'6' at the start of the race, Finston said there were still challenges, including a permanent boil in the river known as the “Mix Master,” where the river bends to the left near Noon Road and partially submerged logs create obstacles for paddlers.
“We came through there and it pushed us sideways pretty good. If you didn’t keep it straight, it was easy to flip and they had a boat there with rescue crews for that purpose,” Finston said. “A lot of people flipped, and that upped the entertainment factor.”
The mountain bike section was next, and many bikers struggled to contend with thick mud that worsened as the day went on.
The kayakers paddled a five-mile zigzag across Bellingham Bay in the final section of the race. By the time most kayakers
entered the water, the rain had subsided and the surface of the water was glassy smooth.
“The kayakers had a dream run,” Finston said. “It looked flat as a millpond.” The Whatcom County Physical Therapy & Fitness team placed 140th overall, and 25th in the Recreational Open division, with an overall time of 8:24:43.
Other teams with racers from Blaine and Birch Bay included the Pioneer Meadows Montessori Pink Towers of Power, who placed 369th overall and 10th in the Recreational Women’s division with a time of 9:58:34, and the Icelandic Bastards, who placed 331st overall and 7th in the family division with a time of 9:24:13.
The Barron Heating team came in first overall for the 11th time since 1996. Their time was 5:42:02. Team Aeromech placed second with a time of 5:46:42.
Problems with the timing chips that recorded times for each leg caused errors in the final results for some teams, but Ski to
Sea officials said results would be fully accurate by the end of the week. Welcome Race Day Timing Solutions had five backups in place at each leg, including video cameras and volunteers recording times.
In the Whatcom County Open division, which is made up of teams comprised entirely of Whatcom County residents, Beavers Tree Service won a hard-fought battle with Klicks Running & Walking. The two rival teams have more or less traded titles in the division for the last 15 years.
Beavers Tree Service rang the finish bell at Marine Maritime Park in Fairhaven with a time of 6:03:35, edging out the Klicks team by only a minute and 17 seconds and taking back the trophy after Klicks won it in 2012.