Debbie Croft: Winter Biathlon in Mammoth Lakes is calling

03/13/2014 8:55 PM

03/13/2014 9:03 PM

Although the white stuff was late in coming, the Sierra Nevada is finally covered in snow. Rising to 8,000 feet, the community of Mammoth Lakes boasts some of the deepest snowpack in the United States. It’s in this Alpine village where America’s largest winter biathlon is about to take place.

To ski fast and shoot straight are the main objectives. Cross-country skiing and rifle shooting make up this favorite European sport that is quickly catching on in the United States.

This is Mammoth Mountain’s seventh year holding its annual Winter Biathlon. For three full days, March 21-23, the Olympic-style snow sport will feature clinics and races for all ages and skill levels, including a race for disabled/wounded warriors.

Some athletes come for the first time, and then return the following year to beat their time. Elite competitors train for the World Cup or an Olympic team. Families participate to make memories. Some individuals volunteer for fun and the sense of community. More than 200 participants are expected this year.

On Saturday, the 3-kilometer races will be held with a 25-meter shoot distance. Later in the day, the Family Fun Race will take place. Word has it that the kids beat their parents every time.

Two races on Sunday provide more challenges. The 4.5-kilometer race includes two rounds of shooting at 50 meters each. And the 7.5-kilometer race features four shooting bouts, also at 50 meters each.

Experienced biathletes will be at every shooting lane offering help to anyone who needs it. Community rifles and ammunition are available to those unable to bring their own.

Not only does the biathlon require athletic skill, but speed, agility, endurance and marksmanship all have a role.

First-, second- and third-place medals will be awarded for some races, and penalty laps apply. Spectators are welcome.

Members of ancient civilizations in Nordic lands often hunted with planks on their feet and a bow and arrow in hand. In later centuries, military groups saw the need for soldiers to be proficient in skills necessary for mountain warfare. Border patrol companies often competed in Scandinavia. (History from Mammoth Sierra magazine article, winter 2011 edition, and

Six of our 2014 Winter Olympic athletes trained at Mammoth: John Teller, Kelly Clark, Trevor Jacob, Greg Bretz, Stacey Cook and Kaya Turski. A few of them call Mammoth their home.

The Mammoth Winter Biathlon was founded by Dr. Michael Karch and his wife, Kim. Karch is a team physician for the United States Ski Team.

The event is a fundraiser for the Eastern Sierra Nordic Ski Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Sponsors include the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and other local organizations. The American Trigger Sports Network will broadcast the event on cable television.

Registration is open until Sunday at 11:59 p.m. For more information, go to

Mammoth has been nicknamed “California’s Backyard Playground,” with plenty of outdoor recreation year-round. Residents and visitors enjoymore than 300 days of sunshine each year. The website,, provides details about other activities and opportunities in the Eastern Sierra.

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