This is the weekend we've been waiting for.
Time has a funny way of speeding up when you anxiously await something in the future. While I have certainly been looking forward to the Mammoth Biathlon and the novel experience it will be for me, I must admit to a significant fear of flying headlong onto my face in public. Or worse, totally screwing up in the range and firing a stray shot straight into someone’s unsuspecting behind (for the record, totally not possible, I promise).
I suppose it’s something like your first piano recital. You’ve only just figured out how to use your fingers in this new and unusual way, and it takes conscious effort to pound out every chord just right, let alone make beautiful music out of it! There I will be, on these squirrely, twiggy, edgeless skis, going as fast as I can, with everybody watching—after only six weeks of training.
But I suppose we all have to start somewhere.
Instead, I will dwell on how far I have come.
Week one, I didn’t even know there were different boots for classical and skate skiing.
Week two, I finally bought my own skate ski setup—correct boots and all—with the gracious help of Brian Ellison at Brian’s Bicycles and Cross Country Skis. Brian Knox of Mammoth Nordic Foundation then helped me with some foundational skills, teaching me the basics of gliding and poling on a classical ski setup.
Week three, I got up close and personal with the spirit of Nordic recreation: smiling faces, old guys skiing circles around me, and snow in the face—or rather face in the snow. We all need humbling.
Week four, I got to talk to an up-and-coming competitive biathlete about how she got into it and what it means to her—her hard work and dedication has gotten her very far very quickly.
Week five, I got to see one of the masters at work: Alana Levin, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Nordic Coach and this column’s featured “workout expert,” gave a clinic on “improving your skate.” She was tremendously insightful, and the improvements I felt were instant, though to really hone my skills will take much more work.
Week six was our last official week of training, and I still hadn’t shot a rifle! That’s nearly half of the event! Clayton Mendel of Eastern Sierra Armory came to my rescue, setting up a practice range and giving me great tips on taking an accurate shot, standing and prone. But more importantly, he showed me how to safely manage myself with a firearm, putting my mind at ease that next week’s headline won’t read “Local writer misfires shot nailing spectator at local biathlon event: Weekly Nordic column ends in embarrassment and a sore bum.”
The only sore bums will be from any spectacular crashes that might (and do) happen during the race. The Biathlon—sometimes equated to the NASCAR of Europe due to its popularity among European spectators—is a fantastic spectator sport. The speed of skate skiing makes it move quickly, and the wildcard of missed shots makes sure nothing turns out as expected—frontrunners can change on a dime if they have to ski a penalty loop.
If you’re coming out to compete, I wish you the best of luck, and I promise I will try not to crash into you. If you’re not coming out to compete, come watch the races, and see why biathlon is the number one spectator sport in Europe.
Ten a.m., Saturday and Sunday morning (Sunday for the elite racers). Strap on your skis or snowboards, grab your ski pass, and ski over to the Outpost, near Chairs 13 and 14 on Mammoth Mountain. You can also cross-country ski uphill to get there, but it’s pretty strenuous. If you don’t already have a pass to the Mountain, Mammoth will be selling a spectator pass for those days.
No excuses. Be there.
Just think NASCAR without the smelly fumes.