Several lucky members of the Gliders Nordic program earned entries into this weekend’s Mammoth Winter Biathlon. (Photo: Heidi Vetter)
2011 Mammoth Winter Biathlon encompasses entire community
Several athletes of a pint-sized nature will take part in the fourth annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon held this weekend, courtesy of event founder, Dr. Mike Karch.
Gliders is a local Nordic program for athletes ages 5-10 years old who want to learn and develop skills in classic Nordic skiing as well as skate skiing in a fun atmosphere. The program has been around for years, according to Coordinator Jane Lester, but new this year was the opportunity for the kids ages 8 and above to earn a complimentary spot in the biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing with rifle marksmanship.
Every year the kids can earn gold, silver or bronze pins depending on how many kilometers they rack up during the nine-week program. This year, those kids who earned gold pins, and were old enough, also received a free entry into the biathlon.
“These kids worked hard and deserved a reward,” Karch explained.
The Gliders program runs for nine weeks from January to March, Lester said. Participants are given the option of a Friday or a Sunday class program for a total of nine classes for the season.
“It’s a great feeder program for the middle school and high school,” Lester added.
And nine seems to be the lucky number for the group since there were nine kids who became eligible for the free entry into this weekend’s event.
But is there any risk in handing a rifle over to an 8-year-old?
“Not at all,” Karch said with a laugh. “We have a teaching course [clinic] beforehand.”
And this year practice clinic participants will be in good hands since Olympians and World Cup Athletes will be providing the instruction.
With weather looking to be a bit dicey, Snowcreek Athletic Club has graciously donated the gym so that these clinics, scheduled to take place Friday and Saturday, can be held indoors. The Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation is also donating five, recently purchased laser rifles for these indoor training sessions.
Also new to the event this year is the televised coverage of the Elite Race on Sunday by the American Trigger Sports Network (ATSN) as well as Versus.
Originally Versus had planned to cover the race via helicopter, but Karch said they would have to wait and see if that would be possible, weather-wise. However, the network does have other, on-the-ground options for coverage in case of snow or too much wind. Athletes participating in the 12.5 kilometer Elite Race include Olympians, World Cup athletes, U.S. National Champions, Junior National Team members and more. This year’s event will also feature a National Guard Biathlon Cup.
And last but definitely not least, with the help of grant dollars, the Wounded Warriors Project and Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra will send participants to the Wounded Warriors race wave on Sunday, making this year’s Biathlon a truly all-inclusive, community event.
All net proceeds from the race go to local youth cross-country teams such as the Gliders and the middle school and high school teams. As of Wednesday, Karch believed there were just over 200 racers registered for the race. Registration closes Saturday morning at 8 a.m.
It is important to note that a few tweaks have been made to the schedule due to weather. First, the race starts will be delayed both Saturday and Sunday to 10 a.m. Second, the volunteer build out has been pushed back to Friday at 8 a.m. at Tamarack. Karch said he needs “all hands on deck, all day.” Last minute volunteers are welcome. Finally, Friday evening at 6 there is a race meeting for participants at the Community Center.
“We really couldn’t have done all this without Snowcreek Athletic Club, Measure R, Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the Forest Service and the Mammoth Lakes Police Department,” Karch said.
For more about the 2011 Mammoth Winter Biathlon, sponsored by Ford Motors, or to register for the event, visit www.esnsa.org
For more about the Gliders program visit http://tamaracklodge.com/xcountry/gliders/ or call the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center at 760.934.2442.