After a three- or four-year absence the Seeley Lake Biathlon has returned. Originally staged independently by Cheri Thompson, the event had fallen on hard times despite its overwhelming popularity. The Nordic club had considered resurrecting it, but no one had the nerve or energy to take it on until last spring when Dave Batchelder naively put his head on the chopping block with absolutely no prompting from us.
Apparently, he had one of those light bulb moments and thought he had a good idea. I agree, it was an excellent idea, since someone else was going to do all the heavy lifting. Not that I ever actually do any heavy lifting. The reality is, any cross country race requires a ton of work and organization, but a biathlon increases that commitment exponentially since it involves all the usual race production effort with the added component of guns shooting real, live ammo that puts holes in things, including humans, with deadly force.
So now you have not only a race course to prepare, registration, promotion, timing, food, etc. etc., you’ve also added an interval start, a shooting range, targets, shooting lanes, someone to oversee the range, a monitor for each of seven shooting stations, PLUS a penalty loop for every missed shot and someone to keep track of the hamsters going round and round the loop with one lap for every missed shot.
The targets were the easy part. Cheri was stuck with a pile of biathlon equipment that she would probably never use again and the club was more than happy to take that problem off her hands. Dave struck a deal with Cheri and we purchased what turned out to be a small mountain of stuff. So, we not only bought biathlon targets, but an unanticipated storage problem as well. But, hey, added layers of complexity just keep life interesting and if Seeley Lake is going to Make Nordic Skiing Great Again then we are willing to make small sacrifices. The biathlon range is being disassembled at this very moment and my guess is Director of Shooting Operations Christ Lorentz has a rough idea of where he’s taking that pile of crap. As long as it’s not my garage we’ll be fine.
The other part of the equation is safety, no small deal when guns are involved. DSO Chris has a long history of involvement with the local gun club as well as competitive shooting, so we knew we were in good hands in that department. Since this is a citizen race the assumption is made that none of the racers know jack squat about guns or gun safety and everyone is required to complete basic safety training prior to the event. For many of the racers that meant arriving at the range at 8 AM to get schooled on the essentials such as not waving your rifle around with reckless abandon and blowing your big toe off. The local kids were scheduled for 4 PM the day before the race which eliminated a good deal of the cluster effect that we’d experienced in previous biathlons.
Due to the lack of snow we experienced early in the season, Dave postponed promoting the event until the week prior. That was a double-edged sword. Do you go ahead and advertise early and risk having to cancel and refund entry fees, or do you hold off until the last possible moment and pray there is adequate participation to cover expenses and justify the boat load of work involved? As it turned out, we had 65 racers which has to be judged a success, all things considered. Granted, that number was heavily juiced by the volume of kids from Seeley Lake Elementary, but still the majority of racers came from outside the valley.
Easily the coolest thing about the biathlon is that it really is a race for fun. Sure, racers are skiing hard and there’s that handful of skiers whose competitive edge can’t be suppressed. But, for most people, especially the kids, it’s about having a good time and getting to shoot guns. Other than a few of the teenagers, the racers weren’t what I would categorize as elite skiers. And the shooting range can be the great equalizer. You may be the fastest skier out there, but if you miss five shots, you’re going to ski five laps around the donut which can add 20 seconds per lap to your total time. Meanwhile, your buddy shot clean and is out on the course slipping away, while you’re spinning circles on the giant wheel going nowhere.
For those of you who showed up yesterday: thanks for coming. To the ones who thought about it but declined: there’s always next year. The Seeley Lake Biathlon will be back in 2020 and it will be smoother, bigger and badasser than ever.