Muzzleloading could be out for this year's Winter Carnival

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The muzzleloading ski biathlon that has become a modern fixture on the Saturday of Winter Carnival may miss out on celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Organizer Paul Yonekawa said this week that a new requirement that the event be insured under the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s policy at a premium of $2,000 makes it impractical to host the event at the far western end of Howelsen Hill again this year.

“We’re looking at having an event at some point somewhere in another location,” Yonekawa said. “There’s just challenges, this close to the event, pulling it all together.”

Winter Carnival runs Feb. 5 to 9 marking its 101st year.

Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said Friday that he was looking forward to seeing the muzzleloading biathlon for the first time until the insurance issue came up.

“It has a longstanding history and we’d like to continue it,” Boyne said. “We tried to find an individual sponsor for it, to cover the cost of insurance, but they weren’t interested.”

Boyne also looked into an alternative location away from Howelsen Hill, but the insurance carrier said that if the event appears on the carnival program, the insurance premium would be required.

Unfortunately, Boyne said, the limited number of people involved is out of proportion to the four-figure insurance premium. Yonekawa confirmed that typically the event draws 15 to 18 contestants, 10 volunteers and maybe 20 spectators.

The muzzleloading biathlon closely resembles the Olympic biathlon scheduled to take place at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, also in February. Contestants must ski several laps around a short cross-country ski course with their rifles securely strapped to their backs, stopping at a shooting range at the end of each lap to fire at targets. Missed targets result in a time penalty (Olympians ski added distance for every miss).

Olympic contestants ski on the latest Nordic skate skis and fire lightweight .22-caliber rifles while wearing skin-tight suits. In stark contrast, the contestants in the muzzleloading biathlon fire modern versions of period firearms, wear buckskins and wool knickers and most ski on wooden skis.

Yonekawa said the event harkens to the exploration of the American West when fur trappers often relied on skis and snowshoes when they went out to hunt for game.

“In this day and age, this kind of event reflects positively on shooting as a sport and its history” Yonekawa said. “There’s a lot of different opinions out there about firearms, but that’s what built this country – that’s how we survived.”

Yonekawa said the Routt County Rifle Club is researching possible alternatives in which to hold the biathlon, and he is reaching out to people who were planning to travel to Steamboat to take part in order to let them know the biathlon is not likely to take place during Winter Carnival. One challenge to finding a new location, Yonekawa said, is the need for machinery to groom the course.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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