If you’ve been to Bohart Ranch in recent years, you’ve likely seen the Biathlon range nestled on the doorstep of the Bozeman, Mont., ski area. If you looked closely it would become apparent that the targets have had little use in recent history. They are mostly used for summer competition, and serve as a reminder of what had been.
The targets weren’t always as weathered. Biathlon in Bozeman was booming in the in 1980s. With renowned Olympic-level athletes such as Kari Swenson training in the area and a club based at Bohart Ranch, it seemed as if Bozeman was becoming a U.S. biathlon hub in the west.
However, the biathlon surge in Montana did not last. Biathlon in Bozeman began to diminish in the final decade of the twentieth century as cross-country skiing became more popular. By the time the 2000’s hit there was hardly any support for biathletes in the small Montana town.
Fast-forward to 2014, where a group of locals is attempting to change the absence of biathlon in Bozeman. Starting with a fundraiser in the fall of 2013, the newly formed Bridger Biathlon Club has already made major ground in bringing biathlon back.
The club’s goal is to provide a top-tier training program for biathletes of all abilities that hosts national and regional races. The club also plans to sustain a biathlon culture in Bozeman by maintaining facilities and equipment in addition to creating enthusiasm within the community.
While their goals are lofty, the club is tackling on task at a time.
The first item on the agenda is replacing the ghosts-of-biathlon-past and installing new state-of-the-art targets from Norway. The new targets are set to be installed in the fall of 2014 will carry a plaque to commemorate the late Peter Hale with who passed away in 2013.
Once the new targets are in place, the next undertaking is to build a club from the ground up.
According to the Bridger Biathlon Club’s marketing and public relations director, Katie Smith, the task of finding future biathletes in Bozeman is already off to a good start.
“A total of 45 kids, ages 8 to 14 have reached out to the Bridger Biathlon Club to express their strong interest in participating in a training program this coming season,” Smith said in an interview.
To ensure these skiers have no barriers of entry the sport, the Bridger Biathlon Club has already purchased rifles, ammo, and other equipment. As of this fall, the club will be without a head coach, but will be lead by those who started the club.
“BBC board members Stuart Jennings, Brain Wadsworth and Kari Swenson are leading the effort to establish BBC’s training program, and will be volunteering their time to coach BBC’s team,” said Smith.
Not only will the club be supporting new athletes in the upcoming season, it will also be hosting a series of U.S. Biathlon Association (USBA) races.
According to Smith the 2014/2015 national schedule has yet to be finalized, but the plan is to have two national races at Bohart during the season. The races will be held in conjunction with the USBA races in West Yellowstone, Mont.
The hope is to create a series of races in Montana, where athletes stay in Bozeman and travel between Bohart and West Yellowstone.
USBA President and CEO, Max Cobb, is excited with the prospects of a new club building in Bozeamn.
“It is great that biathlon is again blossoming in Bozeman,” Cobb wrote to FasterSkier. “For many years there were athletes coming out of the Bozeman area and making national teams. I hope that this rise in interest and the new facilities there will usher in a new generation of Bozeman biathletes and step by step we may once again see some on the national teams.”
Cobb said that he hoped the increased interest in biathlon would help spur an new wave of the sport in the Rocky Mountain region. Cobb sited efforts lead by the Casper Mountain Biathlon Club and it’s Board President Rob Rosser, as well as the recently upgraded facilities in West Yellowstone as signs that the region was ready for growth in the sport.
Once established at the local and national level the Bridger Biathlon Club hopes that it will continue to grow.
“We want to see the club grow exponentially. In the next five years we want to see a full training program where we have junior’s elite and masters,” Smith said.
For now, however, those in the club are excited that the sport they love is making an attempt to resurface in Bozeman.
“It’s time that biathlon came back to Bozeman. There is enough interest and there are a lot of kids out there who are excited about it. You can’t get more biathlon than Montana: Skiing and shooting at targets,” Smith said.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.