by Adrian Zissos, FWOC (Calgary), October 2000


 We reckon that quality orienteering shouldn't need millions of organizers plus a dozen nervous breakdowns. Barebones Orienteering encompasses the idea of quality orienteering with minimum organizational effort.


It began as so many things do: a couple of old friends, a few beers, a rambling conversation. The first guy, the stings of criticism still lingering from a recent course setting job, wonders if, on balance, the reward of planning events justifies the time commitment and emotional investment. The second, a self-proclaimed lazy organizer, questions whether we overdo the organization and opines that we can provide quality events with much less effort. And so out of bad experiences and pure laziness emerged a challenge: to find the absolute least amount of work necessary to host a technically sound and completely fun weekend of orienteering – and enjoy ourselves while doing it.


That was six years ago. Since then we’ve held the Barebones Orienteering Festival annually in various places around Alberta and BC. It has become one of the most looked-forward-to events in the orienteering calendar. Here’s what we did…


We discarded any superfluous stuff. We limited ourselves to one organizer per event, and just one field trip per organizer. But we crammed in as much orienteering as possible – three or four or five events each weekend. We controlled each other’s events to ensure technical precision. We used color photocopies to eliminate the headaches of course drawing and printing. We used mass starts, to eliminate all timing. We rarely checked punch cards.


We lived by the “is it Barebones?” mantra, eliminating anything that wasn’t. We reduced the number of courses to a minimum and while we were at it did away with all the categories and eliminated the awards ceremony. We have three courses, and anyone can run whatever they want. Luckily most find it more fun to be in a category of thirty than to win a category of only two. We do hand out awards for youngsters, and we do recognize the venerable, and OK I admit we do tell who was fastest overall. But we don’t make a fuss of it. Turns out as long as the courses are interesting, the map reasonably accurate, and all the controls in the proper place, the rest doesn’t matter much.


We also recognized that enticing people to give up an entire weekend for our non-championship event would require an inducement of more than just orienteering. So we planned for a group campsite and encouraged people to mingle and take part in group activities outside of the orienteering. To get the ball rolling we organized a cricket match (!) for Saturday afternoon. And every year we arrange a group dinner – sometimes potluck, sometimes catered.


We wanted people to come to Barebones relaxed and ready to have fun. We wanted them to come with attitude – good attitude – an attitude we reinforced with the Complainers Fee. Without pre-payment of $20, complaining was not allowed. Any violators are met with scorn and derision. And surprisingly the biggest scorn comes from other competitors. Even when we the (almost) infallible organizers screw up (an annual affair) tolerance and understanding abounds.


The first Barebones Festival included a mass-start Short O on Friday night, a Classic O on Saturday, and a Score-O on Sunday. The second Barebones had the same format, but we realized we could reduce our efforts by using the same control sites for the Classic and the Score-O. In the third Barebones we added a Chase event in place of the relay. We were doing it – everyone was having fun and we were limiting ourselves to one site visit per organizer!


Then the lazy organizer moved away and was replaced by one more gung-ho. This introduced non-minimal efforts including map-making, an extra day of competition, and even some marketing. All this resulted in twice the number of participants and double the fun. The fourth Barebones included a mass-start Short O, a two event Chasing start, a Classic event, and a Score Relay. We’d moved to a holiday long weekend, and now had five events in four days. The fifth Barebones was hidden in the lower right corner of Alberta, over three hours from civilization but still had a big turn out. A new event was introduced – the Enduro: a 15km event using topo maps, orienteering map, and air photos. And as usual everyone enjoyed themselves tremendously.


As organizers we’d like to think that it is our great planning, fun courses, simple logistics, and choice of location that makes the event so appealing year after year. We’d like to think that, but people keep telling us otherwise. The event is so much fun because of the atmosphere. People come not to win ribbons and medals but to do a load of orienteering and spend a weekend hanging out with their buddies and making new friends in the really fantastic Canadian wilderness. The group camp is the focal point of all Barebones events and the interaction between everyone there more than anything else makes the weekend successful and the next year’s event always so eagerly anticipated.


Barebones has achieved its ambition: everyone – including the organizers - enjoys themselves at an orienteering weekend. We can hold medium sized, low-key events with lots of orienteering and minimal organizational effort.


I don’t think that Barebones itself will ever return to the days of absolute minimalism, but I do encourage you to take on the challenge and see how little you can do to organize a high quality big fun orienteering event.