LANCE HARTZLER Missoulian
MISSOULA — When Boris Granovskiy and his wife Allison Brown returned to Missoula in 2020, they found a place where they hoped their growing sport could thrive.
Lockdowns caused by the pandemic forced major events and sports to pause as people sought respite outdoors, giving the Granovskiys and Browns a solid footing ahead of one of the first events they staged in November 2020 when their Grizzly Orienteering Club started.
A few years later, growth has leveled off, with around 30 regular members competing and helping organize after-school events and programs to get kids involved in the sport.
“Missoula has the right demographics and population for this type of sport to grow,” Granovskiy said in a phone interview Wednesday. “People here love to get out and love to explore their surroundings.
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“We were basically starting at the height of the pandemic. So a sport where you get out into nature and literally choose your own path, I think that’s had a lot of traction for people. … I think we were really lucky, so we were able to see strong growth early on.”
The objective of orienteering is simple on paper: competitors find their way through specific checkpoints as quickly as possible with just a map and compass to guide them. The challenge: No trails – usually – and competitors decide on the best possible route on the fly while running at full speed, only getting checkpoint locations just before sprinting their way through courses which vary from event to event.
There lies the know-how. Athletes must be able to read and navigate while sprinting as fast as they can through sometimes rough and wild terrain. Almost like trail running, minus the trail and knowledge of the route beforehand.
Granovskiy grew up researching routes in Russia. He learned the ropes of the sport from his father when he was 9 years old, went on to race as an adult for the United States at world level and founded Grizzly Orienteering with Brown after moving to Missoula – the hometown of Brown – from Washington, DC The two have hosted numerous events in Missoula over the past few years, with one of the largest they’ve hosted taking place this weekend.
Some notable Orienteering Team USA athletes will compete in Missoula Saturday, Sunday and Monday in a week-long Pacific Northwest Orienteering Festival in conjunction with clubs based in Spokane and Seattle. The rest of the event will take place around Spokane following the three races this weekend around the Missoula area.
“The fact that it’s a full week, I think, brings people from all over the country who love this opportunity to do orienteering every day for a week,” Granovskiy said.
These athletes, from various Canadian states and provinces, will compete aiming for the World Orienteering Championships in Denmark later in June and the World Games – which are home to the sport as it has yet to be accepted into the Olympics – in Alabama. in July.
Saturday will be a mid-distance event in the Lubrecht Forest, Sunday will be the same location but a longer course, and Monday will be more unique for state side races, an urban race taking place on the University of Montana campus.
Street racing is commonplace in Europe, where the sport is more popular. Races usually take place around medieval villages or town centers with small passageways, castles and fewer cars to worry about.
“It’s three days of orienteering with really different characteristics and feelings,” Granovskiy said. “…This is really the first time we’re showing orienteering in Montana to the rest of the country. We have people from 17 states and four provinces coming so it’ll be like this national and international introduction to orienteering. orienteering. I’m thrilled about this and I want to show what we have here and the natural beauty in the best way possible.”
Anyone interested in competing this weekend or next week can register at the club’s website Grizzlyorienteering.org. Beginners are welcome, with classes designed around different levels of experience on offer.