Biathlon Programs Proliferating At XC Ski Areas

Biathlon lesson at Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, NY

Biathlon is now on target at many cross country (XC) ski areas across the country. The sport of biathlon combines XC and target shooting. 

The roots of biathlon are traced to Scandinavia in the mid 1700s, and currently it is the most popular winter sport in Europe attracting 700 million annual television viewers. XC ski areas in the U.S. are now offering biathlon programs with real 22 caliber biathlon rifles, laser rifles, and even paintball markers (guns).

Biathletes race 5 kilometers (3 miles) on XC skis before shooting a rifle at five targets 50 meters (164 feet or 54 yards) away. They have a pounding heart and shaking legs with cold fingers and must take five shots. It may be cold and snowy while the sport entails concentration for precision rifle marksmanship. 

The competition includes shooting from a standing position and a prone (lying down) position. Depending upon the venue, the penalty for a missed shot may be one minute added on the competitor’s time or skiing a penalty lap.

The Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, N.Y. has scheduled biathlon lessons on 32 selected dates December-March, with experienced instructors where skiers can head out to the range under careful supervision. The “Be a Biathlete” program is on the actual shooting range used by Olympic athletes in the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid. 

The “Discover Biathlon” program and package for $55 includes a one-hour ski lesson and use of a rifle at the biathlon shooting range. Skiers can pay $16 for a shooting only one-hour session where they are informed about safety before they go to the range.

In a similar program at Soldier Hollow Cross Country Ski Resort in Midway, Utah, you will be provided with ten clips of five shots each, for plenty of opportunity to learn and improve. The highly accurate rifles are the very same rifles used during the Olympic Games held in Utah in 2002. 

After range instruction and practice, a “mini’ fun competition is staged for participants. Programs are coordinated by reservation for minimum of two people, who can ski or snowshoe and there are three program levels starting at $29 for adults and $19 for kids.

In the spirit of this Olympic year, Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center in Truckee, Calif. announced a new Junior Biathlon program led by former U.S. biathlon team member Tom McElroy. This program will be an introduction to the winter Olympic sport for children in second through eighth grade.

Biathlon was first adopted as an Olympic sport in 1955 and “competitions were held at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley,” said Sally Jones, manager of Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center, which is just around Lake Tahoe from the original site of the Olympics. 

Children who participate in the new program will be coached to improve their skiing skills and also learn marksmanship and gun safety using specially designed, 100-percent safe, laser biathlon rifles.

Tahoe Donner also has new biathlon clinics for adults and children interested in learning about the sport. After range instruction and a brief background on biathlon history, participants will get a chance to ski or snowshoe a short loop and then practice their skills trying to hit targets with an elevated heart rate. This is a 1.5-hour clinic is $30 and scheduled on Dec. 22, Jan. 5 and 12, and Feb. 8 and 17.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Chittenden, Vt. initiated the Paintball Biathlon, which brings the aspects of biathlon to 250 kids in a one day event (Jan. 26) to ski and target shoot with paintball markers (guns). 

For the ski area, using paintball is a less expensive way to host biathlon. Skiers in paintball biathlon are rewarded with time deductions for each target they hit. Midway through each lap, the skiers visit the shooting range where identically sighted paintball markers (guns) await them to take their shots before skiing off for another lap. 

The event draws youngsters from across the region and is geared to have fun on snow. It has introduced the sport to kids and some of them are now participating more seriously in high school biathlon teams.

The Nordic Heritage Sport Club Center in Presque Isle, Maine will hold the International Youth/Junior World Championships for Biathlon Feb 28-Mar 7 and U.S. Team Trials for the competition will be on Dec 28-30.  At Rendezvous Ski Trails in West Yellowstone, MT  it’s a cornerstone of winter activity and there is a free “Try Biathlon Day” Jan 4. 

There are also biathlon programs available at Gunstock, N.H.; Bohart Ranch in Bozeman, Mont.; Blackhawk, Wisc.; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Anchorage, Alaska. Check Google or other search service for a biathlon club or program in your area. 

Photo: Biathlon Lesson, Olympic Region Development Authority (Dave Schmidt)

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