The mountain community of Mammoth Lakes, California, once again showed its true spirit for the winter sport of Biathlon this weekend at the 5th Annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon. The event continues to be the largest biathlon in the United States, and runs neck and neck with Canmore, Alberta, for the title of largest biathlon in North America.
Biathlon is a fast-growing winter sport that combines Nordic ski racing and rifle shooting. It is said to have originated in the mid-1800's as a training exercise for Norwegian soldiers. The sport was first officially included in the Winter Olympic Games at Squaw Valley, California, in 1960.
Low early-season snowpack and complicated changes in venue had kept race organizers from being able to give the event a green light until just one month before the races. But once the signal was given, with help from Mother Nature and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the Mammoth Lakes community kicked into overdrive to build a spectacular new race venue and 20-lane biathlon stadium at over 9,000 feet in elevation at Reds Lake, adjacent to chairs 13 and 14 on the backside of Mammoth Mountain.
Saturday dawned clear and crisp, with nearly 100 racers and twice that many spectators making the commute out to Reds Lake by chairlift, Sherpa, or snowcat—or on Nordic skis. Fifty-four kids, ages 8 to 15, competed in three heats of junior categories, racing three kilometers over hilly terrain and shooting two bouts at 25 meters.
Amanda Kirkeby and Carson Bold, both of Mammoth Lakes, took the overall gold medals in the kids divisions. Claire Lang-Ree, Patty Hensley, Ruby Walker, Mia Karch, Connor Kusumoto, Cameron Small, Liam Bassler, and Sage Boyer walked away with the top medals in their respective age categories. The overall Top Shot, with just one miss out of ten, went to Jared Mahler of Mammoth Lakes.
Each wave of racers began with a mass start leading into a curve and an uphill skate. For each shot missed on the firing range, competitors in all categories were required to skate an extra 150-meter penalty lap before continuing their race up so-called Heartbreak Hill.
Professional announcer Chris Hollingsworth kept the crowd energized, calling the action from within the penalty lap, and cranking tunes ranging from Nickelback to Queen. Mammoth Mountain's famous roving burrito cat dished donuts, coffee, and tri-tip burritos for hungry cowbell-shaking spectators. Local bear-whisperer Steve Searles served as Range Master.
The event was covered by American Trigger Sports Network (ATSN), ESPN Latino, The Ski Channel, and a variety of local photographers.
Candice Cable and Brock Bigej captured the gold medals in the Wounded Warrior category, with Brigid Salamon, of Bishop earning Top Shot, with just one miss out of ten.
The Beginner Adult category proved a fierce contest between 34 racers, some in outlandish costumes. Darryl Lazar, wearing a tutu over his ski suit, impressed the crowd early on, shooting five targets for five in his first bout on the range. In the end, Lyra Pierotti took the female gold medal and Karin Fuller overall Top Shot, with zero misses out of ten shots.
Chris Walker edged out David Hawtrey, Gordon Clute, and Les Perpall—all skating to the finish within 50 seconds of each other—for the male beginner gold.
Sunday morning, with snow beginning to fall, 29 Elite and National Guard athletes took to the course, racing a total of 7.5 kilometers (5 laps) and shooting 4 bouts at 50 meters. There were 13 nationally- and internationally-ranked athletes participating, including 9 from Team USA, plus World Masters Champion Carolyn Tiernan, Olympian Katja Ivanova of Team Armenia, and Sergei Ivanova, formerly of Team Russia.
National Guard athletes represented five states: California, Nevada, North Dakota, Minnesota and Utah. Corrine Malcolm (Team USA) of Lake Placid, New York, and Raleigh Goessling (Team USA) of Fort Kent, Maine, both shrugged off the altitude to grab gold medals in the Elite category.
As Sunday's snowfall increased and visibility diminished, 48 Masters athletes proved their mettle in three successive waves, skating 4.5 kilometers in up to six inches of fresh powder, clearing the snow from their rifle sights, and shooting two bouts (one prone and one standing) at 50 meters.
Alana Levin and Michael Lefrancois took the overall gold medals in the Masters category, with Dayna Stimson, Kate Wilson, Rachel Georgeson, Suzanne Stimson, Barbara Ochman, David Lindahl, Steven Feir, Benjamin Ryerson, Brooke Roberts, Dmitriy Yegoshin and Tom Zanic capturing top honors in their respective age categories.
Jeanne Oakeshott beat out Judy Burgenbauch in their own "Girls with Guns" division.
The overall top shooters in the Masters category were Eric Card, of Hawley, Minnesota, and Mammoth Lakes' own Kim Escudero.