Relic of a bygone era

Muzzle-loading Biathlon unique to Steamboat

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Bill Gilbert explains the finer points of the exposed hammer flintlock muzzle-loader, which he made 20 years ago, at the International Muzzle-loading Biathlon.

— Rich in tradition and uniqueness, the International Muzzle-loading Biathlon returns to the Winter Carnival for its 34th year.

The only competition of its kind, the Muzzle-loading Biathlon features competitors who cross-country ski four laps around a course at the base of Howelsen Hill and shoot black-powder rifles.

"It's the combination of skiing - which, of course, our area is known for - but the use of black-powder firearms adds a unique challenge to the event," organizer Paul Yonekawa said.

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 true atmosphere for the event. Racers wear pre-1840s attire and ski on traditional equipment, reverting back to a time before the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club was created.

Although the event has drawn interest from across the map - including competitors from England - Yonekawa said a big part of the ski biathlon is keeping it local.

"People come from all over the West," Yonekawa said. "But it has more of a Steamboat flavor. We like to keep it more on the small scale."

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

Those interested in traditional attire or signing up for the ski biathlon should contact Bob Brassell at 879-7383 (evenings) or 846-4309 (days), or Woody Bieron at 871-1049. Preregistration also is available at Bear Valley Trading Post.

"Contact us, and we can assist you in participating," Yonekawa said. "A familiarity with firearms is definitely preferred. But we have provided firearms and rental skis in the past."

Event organizers typically 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 Biathlon is from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 9, after the Winter Carnival street events.

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