The biathlon I chose for my debut was held in my backyard at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, March 21-23. The Mammoth Winter Biathlon was created by local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mike Karch, seven years ago and continues to grow its following each year.
A biathlon is the combination of Nordic skiing and target shooting. Participants ski a certain distant, then shoot at targets. Every shot you miss means taking a penalty lap.
The race I entered, perhaps foolishly, was the Masters course, somewhere in between beginner and advanced. We had to ski a total of 4.5 km and shoot two rounds of five shots each. The first round of shooting was prone or laying down, and the second round was standing. Shots were taken from 50 meters away.
Here are the reasons you should put the Mammoth Winter Biathlon on your list of events to check out and try.
1. Meeting the pros. In the uber-elite race during this year's 7th annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon, superstars such as Marc-Andre Bedard (right) of Canada and Casey Smith (center) of the U.S. competed. In the days prior to the race these professional athletes also helped with the laser rifle clinics for newcomers to the sport. I was lucky enough to be coached by Bedard (aka Marco) who was a very kind and patient teacher.
2. The weather. With more than 300 days of sunshine in Mammoth Lakes each year, chances are the Mammoth Winter Biathlon will be held on a beautiful, bluebird day, which was the case this year. Temperatures were warm and the course was beautiful.
3. The course. Tucked away at Red's Lake on Mammoth Mountain, the pristine course is groomed to perfection. You'd never know that just over the hill there are people skiing and riding at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
4. The volunteers. From creation of the course to race-day timing and assistance, to the final breakdown, the volunteers (and race founder and director Dr. Mike Karch) of the Mammoth Winter Biathlon make the race a success each year.
The sport, itself.
5. The sport, itself. Skiing and shooting together in one competition is a true test not only of your physical ability but your mental ability as well. It takes great concentration to ski fast but then slow your breathing down once you reach the range in order to shoot straight and hit your target. Missing the target means you take a penalty lap.