What It Takes to Make It Happen – An interview with Ski to Sea Race Director Anna Rankin

We are wowed and incredibly appreciative of race directors! Behind the scenes, planning, preparing for and executing a race event is much more involved than one might assume. That said, the seven-races-within-a-race Ski to Sea Relay is especially daunting to pull off! I thought it would be an eye opener for folks to get a taste of the challenges and hurdles Ski to Sea race director Anna Rankin (and her small team at Whatcom Events) encounters and conquers to bring us such a cool and unique event every year.  – Genevie

What is the most challenging part of putting on the race? 

Anna: It is so many moving parts, it is like seven races in one.  So many details people may not realize from sound, timing, photographers, roads, parks, equipment, donations, sponsors, food vendors, beer gardens, merchandise, insurance policies, newsletters, website updates, ads and media interviews and overseeing a committee of 25 who oversee 600+ volunteers. The race costs over $300k to put on and that does not include wages, rent, utilities, or any other admin costs. 

It is a challenge I love and hope that I make changes each year that improve the race for us and racers, sponsors, volunteers, spectators and the community at large. I am honored to be at the helm of Bellingham/Whatcom County’s largest event and can’t wait to celebrate 50 years with everyone on May 28th!

Can you give us some examples of “how many” so folks can get an idea of the scope of your planning/preparing? For example – 

How many police/sheriff/state patrol/EMT’s, etc. need to be involved? 

Anna: Over 40 law enforcement officers from County Sheriff, Bellingham Police Department, State Patrol, Ferndale, Everson and another 20 certified flaggers, Search and Rescue on the river and bay safety totals over 30 people, Ski Patrol has over a dozen and EMTs and medics along the course and at the parks are more than 30. 

How many permits do you need to get each year? 

14 permits ranging from Coast Guard and WSDOT to cities, parks, Health Department (for food vendors) and the Washington State Liquor Control Board  for the beer garden. 

You shared with me your Large Equipment List which literally included thousands of items and was just mind-blowing! How long must it take just to sort through & gather this equipment and then put it all away again?! (This list included such things as almost 7,000 ft. of fencing, rope & flagging pendants, 37 canopies, 73 tables, 142 sandwich board barricades, 114 safety vests…….!!!)

Anna: It takes 4-5 volunteers three days to gather and sort before the race and the same amount the week after to return everything.  It is a HUGE job, I did it the first two years and know first-hand, it is the most intense puzzle I’ve done.

How many months of planning does it take to make Ski to Sea Relay happen?

Anna: In a nutshell, it takes five months of constant planning for the one day event! I start in early December with sponsor outreach and getting registration ready to open Jan 1st but then we close the office for 2.5 weeks for the holiday and a much needed break from events (our events run May – late October). So January – May is really GO time and with me working full time and two part time staff needing to cover all aspects and logistics.  We put in 70 hours a week collectively on a normal week from Jan – April with May being much more.  I am also working on the other events in tandem but probably only about 5% of my time is spent on that.

Anna, I am mentally fatigued just from contemplating all this! Whew!! Thank you, thank you to all who keep the Ski to Sea Relay alive & thriving! – Genevie

Want more info on this year’s Ski to Sea Relay? https://skitosea.com/


Whatcom Events in partnership with Bellingham Parks & Recreation is also bringing back the Junior Ski to Sea Race with a new spin. The four-leg relay (ski/snowboard, run, bike, kayak) is open to 3rd – 12th graders. The ski/snowboard leg will virtually hand off to the remaining three legs at Lake Padden Park. 

The Junior Ski to Sea Relay was organized for many years by the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, but has been on hold for the past three years. Now, Whatcom Events (the organizers of Ski to Sea) have taken on this race, too. 

They are partnering with several other local non-profits to provide equipment where needed at no charge and will also have team scholarship opportunities available.

For kids looking to join a team or teams looking for a racer, check out the message board on the FAQ page of their website or at this link https://jrskitoseateamfinder.freeforums.net/

For more info on the Ski to Sea Junior Race https://skitosea.com/jrrace/

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