They really come out of the woodwork for the biathlon.

Seeley Lake Nordic has survived another race season marathon with our volunteers exhausted but intact. Three weekends in a row is a lot to pile on and each weekend gets progressively more labor intensive. Skiesta is a comparatively simple kid oriented race, OSCR gets more complex with a 50k course in addition to a 20k course, and then there's the biathlon, which might as well be two races when you factor in the shooting aspect combined with skiing. We have a handful of uber-volunteers who feel compelled to throw themselves into each race. To say these people are complete and utter toast by the end of the gauntlet is a major understatement.

I haven't raced since the last Peter Hale was held, whenever that was. Five or six years ago? Longer? I don't know. Anyway, this year I was lobbying for a classic track on the 20k course so we could get a feel for how practical it would be to possibly include it in future OSCR's. Gotta put your money where your mouth is and I wanted a first hand look at whether a classic race is feasible on the 20k addition which gets narrow in places making it tough to set a classic track plus a skate lane. So, I paid my money and got a number.

Jenny Murney has long been begging us for a classic race and immediately volunteered to accompany me on my scouting tour. I say "tour" because that's what we agreed it would be. We'd ski fast, but we weren't trying to compete. Jenny and I are pretty evenly matched and were within a hundred yards or so of each other for the entire duration. We kept the pace up, stopped for water and even added kick wax at one point. We both snowplowed off the top of the two Mountain View downhills and managed to scrub off all the kick wax on our inside edges. Our time was about 1:54 so it was a good workout, especially when you factor in the hill climbs. It was a great ski until the finish, when things got ugly......

Take note of the deft placement of my "friend" Jenny's skis.

And I'm down. Thanks, pal.

Overall, the 40th OSCR was a massive success. 199 racers participated, shattering the old record of 180. There's no end to the masochistic tendencies of Nordic racers and we're happy to provide a venue for their twisted desires. And that 20k classic track looks like it's totally feasible.

Kids come out in droves for the biathlon.

There was another healthy field for the biathlon with a total of 93 racers. Kids, especially Seeley Lake kids, love it since they get to fling plenty of lead during practice the previous night, as well as during the race itself. There was a total of 25 kids in the 9k and the 3k. Our local racers took the top girls spot and the number two boys spot despite hitting maybe only a couple of targets and skiing penalty laps until their eyes started crossing.

All the guys in green and orange vests are volunteers. Biathlon is a huge undertaking.

I have been blessed with a recessive volunteer gene and consequently restrict my activities to coaching, teaching clinics and pretending to be "president" to the herd of cats that comprises the Seeley Lake Nordic Club, so I have no room to whine about how much work races are. But, every year the same group of people comes back for more self-flagellation when our three week run of races begins. Karen Pratt is the self-described "Competitive Timing Queen" and handles registrations along with myriad other duties, "Grandma" Bruce Rieman hurls himself into fussily grooming and doing whatever Karen tells him to do, Lynn Carey has directed OSCR for 30 years and makes it look effortless, while Chris Lorentz has taken up the gargantuan task of biathlon as his personal challenge. And Bridget Laird has come to the sad realization that she has to run Skiesta until the day she dies.

This crew, plus a cohort of other die-hards, make all of these races go.


A local Nordic coach verbally abuses his young skiers.

It's ski race season here in Seeley. We manage to pack all of our races into a three week span which tends to make things a little hectic but the end result is that we get it over with quickly and then we can go back to grooming and skiing. Or in my case coaching and skiing. I'll groom when I have to, but it's not my favorite activity.

We didn't set out to hold all of our races on consecutive weekends, it just turned out that way. We learned early on with OSCR that once you've established a date for your race you've got to hang on to it regardless of what other races are happening in the region. Other area clubs recognize that OSCR is the last Saturday in January and if they schedule an overlapping race their turnout will be pretty slim. OSCR is in its 40th year, draws as many as 150 racers, and that date will have to be pried from our cold, dead fingers.

Biathlon immediately follows OSCR and we claimed the first Saturday in February as ours.

The biathlon race wasn't originally a club function. It was first begun by a local person who abandoned it after several years, despite its growing appeal. Holding a race is a lot of work, especially for an individual, and biathlon is a ski race on steroids when it comes to organization, managing the shooting aspect and numbers of volunteers. There's no glory in it and very little profit in the beginning, if ever. The Nordic club recognized how popular it had become so we resurrected it and it's now part of our annual race menu. We've gone so far as to establish a dedicated shooting range where we've pushed around a bunch of dirt to provide a level and raised shooting platform as well as a level area for targets. In addition, we placed a storage unit on site to house the small mountain of targets and other gear required for a successful biathlon.

The focus of Skiesta is on kids. It's not an official Nordic club race but we provide support through volunteers and grooming. Bridget Laird, the director of the SLE Outdoor Program, got it going 7 or 8 years ago and I told her at the time to hold on for dear life to that Saturday. It's the Saturday before OSCR, completing our trifecta of three race weekends in a row. It's another one that's grown immensely and this year upwards of 90 skiers from as far away as Sandpoint and Libby turned out to compete.

2022 will be Lynn's last year to run OSCR. Over 40 years the race has grown from a barely groomed point-to-point journey with only a handful of racers into the biggest and best known cross country ski race in western Montana. In the 30 years since Lynn took the helm it's become a well-oiled machine that on the surface seems to come off like magic year after year. The reality is that beneath that shiny exterior there is a considerable amount of volunteer work. And the other reality is that the volunteers who do that work aren't getting any younger and are starting to burn out, to the point that I'm hearing suggestions that maybe this should be the last OSCR.

Will this be the last OSCR? I don't know. But for now, anyway, the last Saturday in January belongs to us.