By now, you are probably quite familiar with the story of Ski to Sea, but in case you aren’t…
The annual Ski to Sea Race from Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay can be traced back to the Mt. Baker Marathon held from 1911 to 1913.
The marathon pitted man and machine against rugged terrain, taking contestants over treacherous roads and trails to the top of the mountain and back.
Contestants had the choice of using automobiles or the railroad to help them get to the point at which they would have to start running up the mountain side.
The idea for the marathon was developed by the Mt. Baker Club, a group of conservation-minded citizens that were attempting to have the North Cascades area designated as part of the National Park System. The foot race to the top of Mt. Baker was a publicity stunt aimed at focusing the government’s attentions on the region.
In 1911 the race was won by Joe Galbraith. The following year, Harvey Haggard was the winner, and the 1913 winner was Paul Westerlund. Westerlund’s time for the climb was nine hours and thirty-four minutes.
Summer storms created hazardous conditions on roads and trails. The marathon was stopped in 1913 when Vic Galbraith, a cousin of Joe, fell into a crevasse while racing down the glacier.
He was found six hours later, nearly dead.
In 1973, the Mt. Baker Marathon was recreated and called the Ski to Sea Race. The Race, now a seven-stage relay, was designed to showcase the recreational opportunities in Whatcom County.
In 2005, The Race has evolved into the “Grand Daddy of all races,” attracting participants from 22 states and five countries. This year, the Ski to Sea Race was once again featured nationally on the “Fox Sports Northwest” network, reaching 2.5 million households, and providing Whatcom County’s tourism industry with one of its best marketing mechanisms.
Generally, when a community has an event such as this, drawing over 10,000 tourists over one weekend, there is tremendous support from all sectors of the community. Ski to Sea is certainly no exception.
Among the many generous organizations who help make this possible are Wal-Mart, Comcast (where you can watch both the Junior Ski to Sea and Ski to Sea itself on pay-per-view), Domino’s Pizza, Whatcom Educational Credit Union, Grainger Industrial Supply, Sanitary Services Co. Inc., the Mount Baker Ski Area (who went above and beyond the call of duty in creating our two alpine legs this year), KVOS TV-12, KGMI Radio 790 AM, The Bellingham Herald (whose beautiful program guide was a tribute to all of the participants in the race), and Horizon Air.
We also receive an amazing amount of support from local and regional law enforcement, including the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Police, the Coast Guard and the police departments of Bellingham, Everson, Ferndale and Blaine. I know I am probably missing others, which I apologize for.
Without their help, this event would never happen.
Beyond law enforcement support, I also want to thank the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County for continuing to use bed tax monies for their intended purpose, marketing Bellingham and Whatcom County as a tourism destination.
Ski to Sea is our best marketing tool, and having Bellingham use 5 percent of its annual bed tax monies to continue ensuring we capitalize on this event is very much appreciated.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank every single volunteer who helped make the 2005 Ski to Sea, and everyone before it, possible. Many people don’t know that there are some 1,000 volunteers who produce this event, accounting for well over 20,000 hours in volunteer time.
Ski to Sea may be owned by the Chamber, but this event is really theirs, and for all their hard work, I can never thank them enough.
Ski to Sea is known as the original northwest festival of races, parades and events, and in that tradition, the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry was proud to bring you the 2005 event, and to continue producing our premier county event in perpetuity.
Thanks to all involved, and I’ll look forward to seeing you at the finish line in 2006!
Ken Oplinger is President and CEO of the Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry.