Biathlon one of unique events

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The International Muzzle Loading Ski Biathlon, one of the most unusual events of the Winter Carnival, is the only competition of its kind in the country, event said coordinator Paul Yonekawa.

Competitors cross-country ski four laps around a course at the base of Howelsen Hill and shoot black-powder rifles. The biathlon is a 32-year tradition that participants and spectators look forward to.

"There are actually competitors who have participated in almost all of them," Yonekawa said. "We have had people from all over the country and world to play. We welcome just about anybody."

The only restrictions apply to the type of rifle and the age of the competitor -- racers must be 18 or older, and the black-powder muzzleloader must have open sights and an exposed hammer; otherwise, the gun can be as new or modern as the racer wants.

There is an open class for those interested in skiing on modern equipment, but the traditional class creates the atmosphere for the event. Racers must wear pre-1840s attire and ski on traditional equipment, reverting back to a time before the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club was created.

"Many of the participants have an interest in history," Yonekawa said. "And as a result, the tools they pick up oftentimes are picked up because of their love of history. Some are hardcore about their period dress and firearms, and then we get the guy in camouflage and in-line skates that just loves to participate."

The event has remained the same for more than 30 years, although the original party atmosphere surrounding the ski biathlon has changed into a camaraderie event for participants and spectators.

Those wanting to find traditional attire can contact Yonekawa at Colorado Mountain College at 870-4530.
"There are a number of participants who may have additional equipment to loan out if they want to borrow it," he said. "If someone says they would like to do it with traditional skis, I may have some around."

Usually, event organizers provide spectator-friendly viewing spots where people are safe from the line of fire but still able to watch competitors shoot the classic black-powder guns. The areas surrounding the cross-country ski course are safe for viewing.

This year's International Muzzle Loading Ski Biathlon is from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 11 after the street events.

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