Whatcom County sits at the Northwest corner of the entire lower 48 United States. It is the Northwest of the Northwest — the ocean on one side and the towering volcanic peak of Mount Baker on the other. In between is everything one would expect in a postcard-esque Northwest snapshot — evergreens, winding rivers, pulp mills, and mudded-up Subaru Outbacks.
Being an outdoor recreation-minded population, the people of Whatcom County have celebrated the terrain in the best way possible — by racing from Mount Baker to the coast in an epic relay. For 40 years, the Ski-to-Sea race has become a world famous way to showcase all the northwest has to offer.
It is a 7‑stage relay that starts at Mt. Baker Ski Area — 93.5 miles from the finish line. Cross-Country skiing starts the event. From there teammates pass the wristband to downhill skiers or snowboarders, who must first hike uphill before riding down and passing to the runner. The run leg lasts 9 miles, taking the event down the Mt. Baker highway out of the snow. The runner passes to a road biker who rides 42 miles toward the coast. From there, a two-person canoe team navigates 16 miles of the Nooksack River, eventually passing off to a mountain biker. They must ride 13 miles of trail to the coast, where they pass off to a sea kayaker. The kayaker finishes the event by paddling 5 miles across Bellingham Bay to the finish line, where a well-deserved beer garden and awards ceremony awaits.
The race actually has its roots from over 100 years ago as the Mount Baker Marathon. For 3 years locals would race up the side of the 10,700 volcano to the summit and back down again. The first year’s winner clocked in at 9 and a half hours! The event was apparently a success, aside from the fact that in 1913 someone died by falling into a crevasse high up on one of the glaciers. No race existed for 60 years, when it was reinstated as a relay. Since then it has become a key kickoff point for summer, and a great way for a group of outdoors-minded friends to challenge themselves and have a whole lot of fun on a (usually) sunny Saturday.
For the kids
A (musch shorter) kid’s relay also exists, giving adventurous teams of all ages a chance to challenge themselves and train as a team. In the kid’s race, a few events are substituted — instead of a 2‑person canoe ride, it’s a 3‑legged race… no skiing is involved but there is an obstacle course, giving the kids one point over the adults.
The main relay is of course the main draw, but the entire Memorial day weekend is packed with fun activities for athletes and spectators alike. If you’re looking for something fun to do, gather seven of your closest (or if not closest, most athletic) friends and head to Bellingham for one of the most fun, albeit challenging, races you will participate in! Registration is still open so if you are looking for something to do on Memorial day, come on out!
More information can be found at www.skitosea.com.
All pictures and images are property of Ski to Sea.