Steeped in history, biathlon returns to Winter Carnival for 36th time |

Steeped in history, biathlon returns to Winter Carnival for 36th time

Unique event recalls Colorado’s fur-trapping days

Paul Brassell tries to hit targets with a black powder rifle during the biathlon event during a past Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs.

— It's a bunch of guys wearing 18th century clothing, sporting enormous wooden skis typically found bolted to the wall of your favorite Colorado bar, and shooting guns so old they burp billowing clouds of smoke not seen in standard issue firearms in more than 100 years.

So it's no surprise that the annual International Muzzle Loading Biathlon is an exercise in history as much as it is sport. Even the presentation of the racers and the friendship among those participants — many of whom count themselves as history enthusiasts — bears more weight than finishing first or last.

But that's not to say the final standings don't matter at all, Woody Bieron said.

"The competitiveness is a veil to most folks," he said. "This is a camaraderie event, a reason to get out and have a competition. I don't think anyone is ravenous about first place.

"But when that gun goes off to start the race, believe me, you go fast."

Bieron said he'll be back for his 10th go-around in the annual event, which is entering its 36th year as one of the more unique aspects of the thoroughly unique Winter Carnival.

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The event starts at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at the base of Howelsen Hill.

There, about two dozen competitors will take their best shots at winning. Racers will be required to don vintage skis and clothing from the fur trapper "mountain man" era that dominated the early American history of the Rocky Mountain region. Even the more modern adaptation of cross-country skiing — skate skiing — won't be allowed.

Participants must have purchased a $7 Winter Carnival button. It costs an additional $20 to register for the biathlon. The age limit this year was lowered to 16.

"It's just unique," Bieron said. "There's always the underlying notion of being able to shoot firearms off in the city limits that's fun."

The event sends competitors four times around a short Nordic skiing course. They then line up with their muzzle loading guns to shoot at nine targets.

The exact distance the targets will be set along with the exact distance of the course remain up the air, further supporting the idea that the day is as much about history and fun as it is course records and fastest times.

"The participants are all the gregarious, helpful and supportive kind of traditional personalities no matter who they're interacting with," longtime biathlon veteran and organizer Paul Yonekawa said. "People can come out and see the equipment and attire from a bygone era when people were very self sufficient. It's a nice package for those who have some background in that history and those who have never seen anything like it.

"It's quite a visual spectacle."

Those interested in skating and shooting in the biathlon can pre-register at Bear Valley Saddlery at 166 1/2 Eighth St. For more information, call Yonekawa at 879-1477 or Bieron at 871-1049.