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Ski to Sea weighs contingency plan due to low snowfall on Mount Baker

The course changed in 2015 due to a lack of snow

Biker Jack Bardi throws the timing chip to his Compass teammate during the bike-to-canoe exchange of the May 2022 Ski to Sea race in Everson. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Mathew Callaghan Sports Intern

The 51st annual Ski to Sea race course may change if low snow levels on Mount Baker persist into late spring, however ski area management believes there’s a high chance the race will follow its traditional legs.  

Still, Race Director Anna Rankin and committee members are considering alternative options. 

In 2015, low snow totals on Mount Baker led to a change in the course’s structure. The contingency plan used that year is the first option the committee will explore when they meet on March 7. 

In the plan, the cross-country ski leg would become an alpine run, which would lead straight into the downhill run. The race would remain the same until after the kayak leg. In a new leg, mountain bike participants would take off from Marine Park, where the race usually ends, and finish at the park. 

No decisions will be made until the first week of April, which Rankin believes should give people a couple of months to prepare and time for the committee to assess the situation.  

Mike Trowbridge, Mt. Baker Ski Area’s general manager and vice president of Whatcom Events, has worked on the mountain since the 1990s. He was involved in Ski to Sea in 2015, when the course last changed due to disappointing snowfall.  

A good portion of his job over the last 30 years has been to interpret the weather, look at what’s already on the ground and notice how snowfall over the winter has progressed. 

He said there is a high chance both ski legs will go as planned during Ski to Sea.  

“Seventy-percent at this point is what my instinct is telling me,” Trowbridge said. “It’s better than a coin toss.” 

As of right now, there is enough snow to go along with the original plan, he said. It all depends on whether this spring is hot, dry and clear, or cool, moist and cloudy. Trowbridge said the latter is what people on the mountain refer to as “Juneuary.”  

Logistically, Rankin believes changing the layout of the race will be a major challenge, but she expects the spirit and camaraderie to remain the same. With getting permits, shifting volunteer focus and potentially changing the timing of the race, Rankin said her team is doing as much as they can to prepare for any possible outcome. Ultimately, it all depends on Mother Nature. 

As of Monday, Feb. 19, about 40 more teams had signed up for Ski to Sea compared to the same day last year. She expects this year’s participation to equal or outdo last year’s 50th anniversary. In a community, like Bellingham that’s rich with avid runners and mountain bikers, Rankin doubts teams will have a difficult time finding someone to fill those spots should the plan change. 

Rankin worries a contingency plan may be more of the norm in the future. 

“Global warming is one of the things that concerns me the most,” Rankin said. “Having this plan in our pocket for years to come, knock on wood, I hope we never use it again. If it becomes a once-a-decade thing, it’ll be nice to have gone through it and know exactly what it takes.”  

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