International Muzzle Loading Biathlon participants line up to shoot during the annual event at Howelsen Hill. Competitors wear vintage attire in the event that features cross-country skiing and marksmanship with black powder rifles. Spectators are encouraged for the competition, which is from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 5 at Howelsen Hill.

Photo by Matt Stensland

International Muzzle Loading Biathlon participants line up to shoot during the annual event at Howelsen Hill. Competitors wear vintage attire in the event that features cross-country skiing and marksmanship with black powder rifles. Spectators are encouraged for the competition, which is from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 5 at Howelsen Hill.

Muzzle Loading Biathlon returns to Steamboat

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International Muzzle Loading Biathlon organizer Bob Brassell explains the mechanics of his black powder rifle to onlookers during 2010’s event.

— Paul Yonekawa uses long, wide skis that date back at least 50 years and were originally used for ski jumping. They’re not the easiest way to navigate anything, let alone a racecourse.

“But,” Yonekawa said, trying to explain why they’re always a perfect choice for him at the annual International Muzzle Loading Biathlon, “they have character.”

When it comes to the biathlon, which returns again this year as a part of the Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs, character most certainly counts.

The biathlon, which starts at noon Feb. 5 at Howelsen Hill, casts competitors backward through the centuries in Steamboat, to the pre-1840s Rocky Mountains. Most racers will be required to don vintage skis and clothing from the “mountain man” era that dominated the early history of the region.

It’s difficult at times, Yonekawa said, but it’s also part of what makes the biathlon a favorite among competitors and spectators every year.

“The event is unique all the way around,” he said. “Much of the equipment, much of the attire, much of it is functional and taken from the fur trapper era. They were pretty much self-sufficient, out in the field on their own. Many of the participants here have a love not just for that history, but the attitude and some of the skills of that timeframe.”

One of those skills was marksmanship, and despite all the difficulties imposed — from the costumes to the skis and even the muzzleloading guns — it’s an area in which the day’s best hope is to be perfect.

“Placing isn’t important,” Yonekawa said. “I like to do well in the marksman category, to shoot well.”

The event sends competitors four times around a short Nordic skiing course. They then line up with their muzzleloading guns to shoot at nine targets.

There are three divisions. Those in the open classification are allowed to use modern skis and clothing. Participants in the transitional class can use modern skis but wear antique clothing, and the traditional competitors go all out, with antique skis and clothing.

All participants must use muzzleloading firearms.

Those interested in skiing and shooting in the biathlon can preregister at Bear Valley Saddlery, 166 1/2 Eighth St. For more information, call Yonekawa at 970-879-1477.

Even for those not participating, the event can be a great experience.

“Anyone can ask a participant a question, and they’ll usually get their ear talked off,” Yonekawa said.

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