As if by magic, Sunday morning dawned clear.
And Mike Karch’s vision of winter biathlon shone in the morning light.
“It was an amazing vision,” said Alana Levin. “He (Karch) created the whole thing.”
After a week of heavy snows in the Eastern Sierra, volunteers cleared the course and the fourth annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon got under way.
Three divisions of two waves each came out for Sunday’s race: Intermediate, Elite/National Guard and Advanced.
The biathlon course was laid out along Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center trails in a huge meadow below Horseshoe Lake, an area known as the Slash Pit.
A stadium was created, where spectators cheered and hot dogs were grilled. Directly across was the shooting range. Athletes headed out from the start line, skied 1K and 2.5K loops, came back in to shoot, both standing and prone, zipped around the penalty lap once for each missed shot and back out onto the course, to finish again where they started.
On the wood side spectators rang cowbells and cheered, making a respectable cacophony, although nothing like the 30,000-person crowds that come out to cheer biathletes in Europe.
In the intermediate group were many people from Mammoth, such as elementary school teachers Jeanie Oakeshott, Judy Burgenbauch, and Suzanne Stimson.
Lisa Mathers fairly spun around the loops and through the shooting gallery, looking strong and resilient. Mathers had contracted Hanta Virus last summer and this was the first competition she’s entered since that time. She felt good, she said after the race; it was the first time she had breathed hard. She won the Intermediate level race, handily, with a time of 35:23.
The snow was in good shape, groomed yet a little soft. The shooting gallery couldn’t have looked any better, as announcer Whit Raymond said. It was built in the blustery snow of Friday; it took six hours to build a 20 lane range from scratch, and remarkably, it held over two nights in the ferocious winds that pummeled the high country.
The intermediates provided lots of drama and humor. Take for instance, Benny Ryerson and Casey Mommer. Ryerson is the freeride coach on Mammoth Mountain, and as Raymond said, he’ll try anything. There he was, garbed in baggy, roomy clothes atop skinny, skinny skis, somehow looking graceful. And Mommer, tk, tk, employed a skiing style that resembled fast jogging. They both finished in a respectable 46 minutes.
The Elite/National Guard skiers glided up to the starting line just like the intermediates had, but holy snow they took off like they were fire powered – Olympians, national team members and National Guard from several states.
It being Mammoth, the wind picked up, and caused shots to go wide of their mark, as it was blowing across the gallery. For every shot missed athletes skied penalty laps.
Then came the Elite/National Guard athletes, and the tenor of the day changed. It was like watching the Olympics, without a TV set between the action and athletes.
In the first wave of the elites, spectators could see the dynamics of biathlon, as Wynn Roberts and Raleigh Goessling ripped up the course and the shooting range. They traded leads at least a couple of times. Roberts is a member of the U.S. Biathlon National Team, and Goessling is a young biathlete from Minnesota.
Luke Wynen, former snowboard champion who took up cross-country skiing as rehab for an injured knee, exhibited a fiery zeal as he sped around the course, finishing 20th.
Finally, the Advanced Adults had their chance. Andrew Bourne, medical colleague of Race Director Mike Karch, won in a time of 21:09.
Saturday’s races included waves of beginner adults, J2, J3, J4/5, disabled sports and Wounded Warriors waves.
As with other organizations, Disabled Sports and Jazz Jubilee, to name two, it is the volunteers who make an event shine. All efforts in the Mammoth Biathlon were made possible by the volunteers, who are an exemplary group. As Mike Karch said in a thank you to the volunteers, “This week proved once again how our unique geography is reflected by the amazing people that live here. Your character, flexibility and willingness to mobilize quickly created a world class event when all odds were stacked against us.”