Orienteering events draw crowds to new places
Brian Schwartz has been the manager of the 270-acre Lone Pine State Park for six years, but he continues to inquire about the lands under his jurisdiction.
Will Dickinson, a recent transplant to Flathead Valley and longtime orienteering runner, reached out to Schwartz earlier this year to discuss holding orienteering races in the park and took him along some of potential routes he was considering through Lone Pine.
“Will walked around the whole park and showed me things that I wasn’t aware of,” Schwartz said. “I knew there were two old quarries, but Will showed me a third, along with an irrigation canal and a concrete foundation.”
“I laughed a bit about it,” Dickinson said. “It’s almost like a scavenger hunt when you’re orienteering – you never know what you’re going to find. “
Orienteering is an umbrella term for sports that require navigating with a map and compass with a chosen form of transportation – usually on foot, on skis, or by bicycle.
Originally used as a military training exercise in Scandinavia, the concept developed into a competitive sport among the military and eventually among civilians, with the first public orienteering competition held in Norway in 1897.
The sport is overseen by an international governing body and is part of the World Games, a kind of alternative Olympiads that feature sports not included in the quadrennial Olympics.
In a traditional orienteering race, performed on foot, participants are given a map and compass and navigate to a series of points, each marked with an orange and white flag. The goal is to reach all the points in the shortest possible time, and with no itinerary or trail to follow, it is up to the participants’ navigation skills and their ability to cross rough terrain to define a course.
Dickinson started competitive orienteering over a decade ago and was disappointed when he discovered that there was nothing in the sport going on nearby.
“I think there is a lot of potential in the Flathead because of the high participation in all other recreational activities,” Dickinson said. “We’ve only had two competitions so far, but it’s already grown a lot and there is more awareness of the sport.”
After contacting Schwartz and mapping the Lone Pine area, Dickinson arranged the first two orientation meetings – the first attracting around 30 attendees and the second more than 45.
“It’s an interesting concept because these days we’re so used to working with OnX, or some other mapping app on our phones, or having GPS units with us,” Schwartz said. “Just being able to do basic compass navigation if your battery runs out or you lose your phone is a life-saving thing to know, plus it’s a really fun way to learn it. “
Schwartz said he took an orientation class in college that got him hooked on the idea, and now that there are events nearby, he plans to compete with his kids.
“The point is, orienteering can be as physically demanding as you would like it to be,” he said. “It fits with our mission at the park to connect people with the outdoors and it’s a very different way of doing it that takes them off the trail.”
The closest orienteering club to Flathead is Missoula’s Grizzly Orienteering, founded by Boris Granovskiy a year ago. Granovskiy is a former member of the United States orienteering team and has competed in competitions around the world.
“It sounds corny, but orienteering is often presented as a reflection sport,” he said. “It’s an outdoor adventure with a problem-solving component, so it’s a way to exercise your body and mind at the same time. “
In Missoula, Granovskiy hosts beginner’s events and allows all novice runners to compete without paying a registration fee to attract new participants. In the past year, there have been 18 events in western Montana with an average of about 50 participants.
“It’s a sport with a pretty high barrier to entry,” said Granovskiy. “You need a map and a compass, but then you need to figure out all the fun little symbols on your map. “
That being said, he said that once newbies have been introduced to the concept and learned basic topographic reading skills, it is up to each participant to determine how difficult it is to put in their effort.
“We get all kinds of feedback and demographics at events,” Granovskiy added. “There are competitive people who are trying to improve their skills, and older people who just like to hike with a little purpose, and a lot of families and kids who like the scavenger hunt aspect.”
Dickinson is getting ready for the final orienteering race of the year at Flathead, which will take place in Lone Pine on November 7th. He expects the largest crowd to date and hopes this will increase the community’s interest in the sport.
“It’s not a sport where you have to buy and store fancy gear, but at the same time I think a lot of people are surprised that following a map is a lot harder than they think,” Dickinson said. . “It’s a way to experience the scenery in a way that you may never have experienced before, even though you manage the whole park.”
To learn more about orienteering or to register for the event at Lone Pine, visit www.grizzlyorienteering.org.