Ski to Sea Race Turns 50

Get out the candles—Ski to Sea celebrates its 50th birthday this year on May 28, and the celebration promises to be one for the ages.

I love that week when you start seeing all the cars with boats, bikes, and skis on them, and it hits me that it is GO time.

Inspired by the original Mt. Baker Marathon (1911-13), this epic 7-leg relay (cross-country ski, downhill ski/snowboard, running, road bike, cyclocross bike, and sea kayak) spans 93 miles, from Mt. Baker to the Salish Sea. It is hard to overestimate Ski to Sea’s importance to the community. The two-year pandemic shutdown (in ’20 and ’21) gave a new perspective on how the race (and the many associated events) is seamlessly woven into the fabric of Cascadian life, and its return last year was cause for widespread celebration.

The driving force behind Ski to Sea is Race Director Anna Rankin of Whatcom Events. We sat down with her to learn more about this 50th Anniversary milestone for the iconic event.

Anna Rankin and Baker the Goat. Photo courtesy of Whatcom Events

 

It’s the 50th Anniversary of Ski to Sea. How is this milestone being commemorated?

To celebrate 50 years of racing, I am trying to get an entire team or at least one racer to represent each of our 50 states (and DC). We are also making a Legacy video with archival footage that I am really excited about. I have another idea up my sleeve but should wait to share until plans are solidified.

 What’s different this year?

I expect the Cyclocross course will continue to change, and we hope to add a beer garden at Hovander Park in Ferndale! And LOTS of merch will be for sale this year to commemorate 50 years.

Bellingham Firefighter’s Team circa 1980’s. Courtesy of Whatcom Events.

 

How has Ski to Sea changed over the years?

Looking at old photos, videos, and race guides has been such a kick and downright emotional. I feel honored to be at the helm of such an important event in our community. One that has only been shut down twice due to the pandemic. Did you know the original letter of recommendation to the Chamber suggested nine events: skiing, mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, horseback ridingwater skiing, running, fishing boat, and sailboating? Over the course of 50 years, all but four (mountaineering, horseback riding, fishing boat, waterskiing) of these events have been used, and only one not recommended (bicycling) has been added.

After a pandemic-caused hiatus, The Junior Ski to Sea Race is back. What will that look like this year?

We are so excited to bring the Junior Race back to the community after a three-year hiatus, and we have made major changes to the race so that it mirrors the big race and earns its name of Junior Ski to Sea. There will be four legs (skiing, running, mountain biking, and kayaking) starting at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, with a virtual handoff to Lake Padden for the remaining legs. Our Board of Directors quickly realized that we have a large community of kids who are up for the challenge and currently practice and/or excel at these sports. The Junior Race registration just opened. The event is Saturday, May 13th, two weeks before Ski to Sea. It is going to be a crazy May, but we’re up for it.

What did Whatcom Events do to keep this iconic event solvent during the pandemic when Ski to Sea was canceled?

Oh man, it was so hard for me to shut down the race that first year and not much easier in 2021. I received so many comments from racers with personal stories that were so touching that my keyboard was flooded with tears on more than one occasion.

A few teams did their own version of Ski to Sea remotely, and I thought that was very cool. I tried to keep in touch with the community via social media and a few pop-ups, but it just wasn’t the same. In 2021, I was able to host our three other events (The Tour de Whatcom, Mt Baker Hill Climb, and Trails to Taps Relay), keeping me busy and connected.

Vintage Team Getting Award. Photo courtesy of Whatcom Events

 

Can you tell us about the effort to have racers from all 50 states compete this year?

I started by reaching out to out-of-state racers that have joined us in the past and got the first eight teams that way. Now we are working with our national partners and sponsors to help us spread the word. I quickly realized that getting a whole team from every state was a bit unrealistic (something I should have started on last year if I had had the time). So now we hope to have at least one racer from each state; currently, over half the states are represented. If people want to find out if their state still needs to be represented, they should contact us, as it comes with discounted entry!

Why is Ski to Sea important to the community?

I think Ski to Sea touches nearly everyone in town and has for five decades. People race or volunteer or sponsor or simply show up to cheer people on. So many fun events are happening in tandem: the Fairhaven Festival, the Block Party at Boundary Bay Friday night, library book sales, etc. I can’t help but feel that Ski to Sea unites the entire community. I love that week when you start seeing all the cars with boats, bikes, and skis on them, and it hits me that it is GO time. Last year was truly magical because people really missed the event during the hiatus. I felt celebration in the air. As the Race Director, the day came with many challenges. I missed that special moment to stop, and look around, to let it sink in that my efforts, and those of my staff of two and race committee of 25, had led to that glorious day. So that is my goal this year, to have a moment where I truly let that sink in. I’ll also probably cry tears of joy.

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