Rows upon rows of individually labeled paper bags were meticulously placed on the floor of Bellingham Ferry Terminal’s dome room on May 25.
To be exact, 485 bags — one for each team participating in the annual Ski to Sea race Sunday, May 28. Each bag contained teams’ race day packets, including bib numbers, instructions, gear, merch and anything else team members need to be prepared for race day.
Volunteers buzzed around the room, gathering items, marking off checklists and folding T-shirts.
Paul Brock, who has volunteered for every race since 2016, read out T-shirt sizes for each team off of his clipboard. Another volunteer dug through boxes, collecting shirts accordingly to place in each team’s race packet.
Assembling race day packets is just one small piece of the mountain of work that volunteers undertake in the days preceding the big race.
By Sunday, beer gardens will be set up — including a new site at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale — courses will become miraculously marked with cones and ribbons, and finish line banners will be erected.
None of this just happens by chance, though. It’s thanks to a team of almost 600 Ski to Sea volunteers.
“There’s a lot of things that are happening behind the scenes that I don’t think a lot of people know,” Brock said.
The day before the race, volunteers will scatter throughout Whatcom County to set up the course by taping off areas, putting up tents, marking the correct direction for racers with spray paint and any number of other tasks, depending on the race leg.
Jeff Cummings, cyclocross course designer, will start his Saturday morning by loading up a flatbed full of cones, tape and makeshift hurdles made of 2-by-8 pieces of lumber. The barriers, meant to mimic classic cyclocross courses that force racers to dismount and carry their bikes, are then set up by volunteers throughout the course — from Hovander to Zuanich Park in Bellingham.
Stephanie Blevens, who coordinates all three race legs at Mount Baker, said Saturday will involve a slew of tasks to get the mountain ready, like marking the courses and grooming the snow for the cross-country skiers. At the end of the day, dinner will be made for volunteers who are camping out on the mountain for the night so they can be ready, bright and early Sunday morning.
These efforts are led not only by the massive team of volunteers, but also by the 25-person race committee spearheaded by race director Anna Rankin.
The committee includes Cummings and Blevens, along with other race leg chairs who coordinate volunteers and organize all necessary operations for their leg of the race.
Volunteers who dedicate their time to making race day possible are thanked with a commemorative Ski to Sea T-shirt and a sack lunch. For most, though, that’s not the incentive.
“We have a great Ski to Sea community, and that’s why I come back [every year],” said John Burley, who has volunteered as the cyclocross chair for more than 30 years and raced before that. “It’s a great group of people to work with.”
For Brock, volunteering is his chance to “do his part” to make such an important event happen for the community, he said.
Many, like Burley and Brock, return to volunteer every year. Some have even volunteered for the entire 50 years of the race’s existence. One of the oldest volunteers this year is 92, said Sarah Beck, Ski to Sea volunteer coordinator.
“For 50 years, [Ski to Sea] has been a big part of people’s lives and part of Bellingham,” Beck said. “This is something that people have [grown up with], and now that they’re older, they want to give back to what the race has done for them.”