Men of the mountain

29th annual International Muzzleloading Biathlon draws competitors of all ages


— A great Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival tradition was continued Saturday with the 29th International Muzzleloading Biathlon at Howelsen Hill.

The event requires contestants to be good marksmen as well as cross country skiers. Olympic biathletes compete on the latest shaped skis from Europe and carry featherweight air rifles over their shoulders.

Contestants in the Muzzleloading Biathlon are encouraged to ski on old wooden boards -- the older the better. And their firearms are black powder rifles and flintlocks.

The muzzleloaders at Howelsen Hill on Saturday skied four laps around a figure-8, stopping after each lap.

They had a total of 12 shots to hit as many of nine targets as they were able. No one hit all nine.

The person who dreamed up this sport had a sick mind, because it's really hard to hit a target when one's heart is pounding.

Organizer Paul Yonekawa announced that the event would feature a new wrinkle this year -- computer geeks to operate a sophisticated timing mechanism. That didn't deter race official Clay Hangar, who showed up at the finish line with an old alarm clock hanging from a rope around his neck.

Sue Lewis was the only woman among a couple dozen competitors. Normally a target pistol shooter, Lewis doesn't like most rifles, but she's attracted to black powder rifles.

"It's like a little ritual," Lewis said. "First you put in the powder and the ball and then you pack it all down, and then you add the cap."

She's also a pretty good cross country skier.

"I was so scared when I started," Lewis said. "The shooting is the challenge. I didn't know if I could even hit the target, but everyone told me it didn't matter. I had a great time."

John Brassell, 18, was competing in the event for the first time and represented a second-generation of Brassells taking part. He was sliding around the ball diamonds at Howelsen on a pair of white Swedish military skis his father, Bob, had ordered on the Internet from eBay. They had leather binding straps that had never been used before.

"I should have gone out and shot my rifle before the event," Brassell said. "But I think I can see myself doing this again. I'll do better next time."


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