The 5th Annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon

One of Nevada’s finest recaps the Mammoth Biathlon 2012. If you like skiing and guns, this is your kind of winter sport…

WHO: Mike Lefrancois

WHAT: 5th Annual Mammoth Biathlon

WHERE: Mammoth Mountain, California

WHEN: March 23–25, 2012

GEAR: skate skis, Nordic poles, skate skiing boots

Zack recently asked me if I feel like a Nevadan now that I made the jump across the state line.  The first thing that came to mind was guns and I did go shooting last weekend.

Up until a couple years ago I’d never shot more than a BB gun.  Then I took a clinic at the Northstar Biathlon range and got a feel for what a .22 can do.  What could be more fun than skiing with guns?

I showed up in Mammoth with rusty skills and no practice and got to talking with folks to see what I could relearn in short order.  The first thing I was told is that they are called rifles and not guns.  They are really like big BB guns with no kickback, but I don’t care either way if that makes me less of a Nevadan or not.  I’ve lived in Tahoe for 12 years and am still not sure what makes you a local.  Biathlon made its Olympic debut here in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics so maybe having some biathlon experience now qualifies more as a local.

I was to go off in the 5th and final wave of the day around noon and it had been snowing steadily since about 8:00 a.m.  The rifles were staged in the shooting range (they provided loaners) and I had no time to practice.  I didn’t even touch a rifle prior to my start so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go down.

It took 2 chairlifts to get to the biathlon range in Reds Lake Basin at Mammoth Mountain.  The course was a 1.5k loop (1 mile) with short steep climbs, hairpin turns and a long gentle grade around Reds Lake. The penalty loop was 75 meters for every missed shot.   We were at 9500’ and my lungs were challenged during my warm-ups so I made a conscious note to back it off a bit so I could see and shoot straight.  The range was impressive and could handle 20 biathletes at a time.

The first 2 waves were pro/elite and National Guard athletes.  The last 3 waves were for the rest of us.  After some delays and at least a few inches of new snow I shed a few layers and got to racing. The sent us off with a non-climatic GO!  The steep climbs and hairpin turns were all with the first minute or so of the loop so I took it easy to avoid a blow up or crash.  By the time we rounded Reds Lake I had a narrow lead and just hoped I would not blow it all with bad shooting.  We would shoot twice – once laying down and once standing up.

I arrived at the range, laid down next to a gun and just tried to relax my breathing and remember the routine to shoot.  I hit 3 of my 5 targets to my surprise so I guess I was doing something right.  I’ll give yoga some credit for the disciplined breathing.  2 penalty laps later I was back out on course alone with foggy glasses and even heavier snowfall.  The next time in we shot standing up.  It was much harder and my breathing was labored so I managed only 2 of 5 targets this time. But my skiing was strong and I made up for the penalties out on course and won my race a distance ahead of the next competitor. We were also being timed against the last 2 waves of competitors.

Winners got medals which made it very Olympic. Final results posted later put me atop the podium but they sent me home with a silver medal probably because they took me for a Nevadan.  Am I no longer worthy of the Golden State?  Honestly it makes to no difference to me because I live and race for fun and to support great causes so don’t get too hung up it the details.

The full event spanned multiple days and the Eastern Sierra Nordic Ski Association ( deserves credit for all the planning and hard work put into the event.

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or ski, shoot, biathlon race) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.

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