Biathlon heaven at Mammoth Mountain


Perfect conditions for Sixth Annual race

While Eastern Sierra and California athletes filled the Mammoth Biathlon racing rosters, a pair of elite athletes from New Hampshire and Washington dominated the top tier of the competition last weekend.

Katrina Howe, a New England biathlete, and Casey Smith, from Winthrop, Wash., took the top elite spots on Sunday, March 24, at the sixth annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon.

For Howe, it was her first visit to Mammoth, and it paid off.

“Earlier this winter I received an invitation to participate in the Mammoth Lakes Biathlon event as an elite competitor,” she blogged after the event.

“Last year I thought about attending but backed out because I was too tired at the end of the racing season. I’d heard nothing but good reviews of the event so this year I booked my flight earlier and registered for the event so I wouldn’t back out again.

“I’m sure glad I did! Right now I’m sitting in the San Francisco Airport on my way home from an awesome experience. I have a sunburned face and my body is exhausted, but I’m already looking forward to returning for this event next year if I can.”

After graduating from the University of Vermont in May 2009, Howe spent her first year in the sport living at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., but she currently competes for the Maine Winter Sports Center.

Racing under the best conditions in the event’s history—warm temperatures, good snow, bluebird skies—Howe,  26,  edged out Corrine Malcolm, from Hayward, Wis., and third-place finisher Britt Cogan from Mammoth in the women’s elite division.

Among the top seven elite women, Carolyn Tiernan, 62, from Bishop, finished fifth.

Among the men elites, Mark Johnson, 25, of Grand Rapids, Minn., finished second behind Smith, while Raleigh Goessling, 21, of Yarmouth, Maine, took third. 

The best finish among local athletes in the men’s elite division was by Clayton Mendel, 32, the owner of Mammoth’s Eastern Sierra Armory, which specializes in biathlon rifles, and David Eastwood, 47, from Truckee.

But it was Smith who stole the show among the elite men.

At just 21 years of age, Smith began making a name for himself two seasons ago. He was the Junior Biathlete of the Year for the 2011 U.S. Junior National Biathlon Team, and led the U.S. Men’s team at the Junior World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.

Last season, Smith spent most of January and February on the road in Central Europe, racing and gaining experience in multiple events in Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic. He finished up his season with three National Championship titles at the U.S. Biathlon Championships in Mt. Itasca, Minn.

A student at Montana State University at Bozeman, in the Department of Earth Sciences, Smith has been learning how to apply scientific method to the study of snow and ice.

His victory at Mammoth, though, was far from a blowout. In fact, Smith beat Johnson by just 1.8 seconds on the course, and had five misses at the targets compared to Johnson’s four.

Meanwhile, dozens of other athletes found their way onto the course at Red’s Lake for a fine afternoon of racing and shooting, fitting nicely into the long-range plans of race director Dr. Mike Karch.

“We had 78 kids under the age of 15,” Karch said. “That’s a big uptick in youth interest and level of shooting and skiing over the last six years, and we had eight Team USA athletes visiting Mammoth for Biathlon Week.

“Again, that’s speaking to the original concept of building from the bottom up and top down.”

In the Girls’ Kids Division, Mammoth athletes took nine of the top 10 spots, but could not beat 13-year-old Claire Lang-Ree of Truckee, who finished 24.1 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Amanda Kirkeby.

Among the boys, Jack Roten, 17, won the race ahead of second-place Calvin Trace of Crowley Lake and Cameron Small of Mammoth.

The Wounded Warriors team made quite an impact, as well. Octavia Mitchell of Chicago, 55, won the women’s division over Bishop’s Brigid Salamon and Arlene Callahan, while among the men, Brock Bigej, 24, of Portland, finished ahead of 65-year-old David Bruce of Los Altos and Ronnie Jiminez, 35, of Twenty-Nine Palms.

Mammoth’s Heather Crall won the women’s beginner adult division, while Edward Blair won the men’s beginner adults.

In the Masters Division, Marie French, 33, of Mammoth came in first among the women, while Jonathan Bourne, 56, also of Mammoth, took first among the men.

On behalf of Eastern Sierra Armory, Mendel raffled off two biathlon rifles this year—one for junior athletes and one for adults. The junior raffle winner was local youth Dominic Manzano and the winner for the 16-plus raffle was local doctor (and lane sponsor) Mary Bassler.

If there was anything at all that could take the shine off the races, it was the continued lack of a permanent venue. Mammoth Mountain did well enough, but to get to the venue itself, at Red’s Lake, it really did take alpine equipment.

Karch said he continues to press for a permanent facility at Tamarack.

“We’re still pursuing a permanent venue so kids and elites can train and improve,” he said. “Using the Morton Trails Feasibility Study plans, Tamarack XC Ski Dome and Vista is the ideal place due to proximity of parking, disabled access, existing cross country infrastructure and the current lack of a race stadium venue (middle and high school masters sports) at Tamarack.”

Karch said he and others currently are seeking funders for a facility that Morton, a New England consulting company, estimates would cost between $150,000 and $350,000, low-end to high-end, for a biathlon stadium and course.