Chamber hands off Ski to Sea to new nonprofit

By Isaac Bonnell

For 38 years, the Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry has organized the Ski to Sea race on Memorial Day weekend. But last week, the chamber handed over the reins to Whatcom Events, a new nonprofit headed by current race director Pete Coy.

“The public won’t see any changes in how the race is conducted,” Coy said. “Almost all of this will be invisible to the public.”

Chamber President and CEO Ken Oplinger said timing was right for the event to become independent and it just makes sense to hand it over to the race committee, which is responsible for the operations of the event.

“The race committee has been doing a great job and we’re confident that they can handle the whole event,” Oplinger said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the administrative side is taking more and more time. It has been an activity that requires year-round administrative work.”

Without the extra work and stress of organizing a massive race, the chamber will be able to focus on offering more networking events and utilize staff time “in a way that will directly benefit our members,” Oplinger said. The chamber will still run other Ski to Sea events, such as the parade and the junior race.

For Coy, taking over the event had been a lifetime in the making. He participated in the running leg of the first race back in 1973 and has volunteered for years. Now, as the race director, he oversees every leg of the race along the more than 90-mile course.

In talking with the chamber about assuming responsibility for the event, Coy said he knew right away that he wanted to run it as a nonprofit.

“I’ve always felt that this race belongs to the community and any profits from the race should go back to the community,” Coy said. “So if for some chance we turn a profit at the end of the year, we will be donating that to local charities.”

Coy estimated that hosting the event costs around $200,000.

Besides Ski to Sea, Whatcom Events will also organize the Tournament of Champions softball tournament this year and is actively looking to take on other events, Coy said.

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