Biathlon is an exhilarating winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting
Local programs such as the one at Hardwood Ski and Bike can help you get started
The sport of biathlon combines cross-country skiing and shooting in an exciting and challenging format that has become quite popular of late. With the Winter Olympics around the corner, there could be even more people interested in checking it out.
Although there are not a lot of places around where biathlon is available, due in part to the whole rifle thing, Hardwood Ski and Bike near Barrie, Ont. is one such facility. Hardwood has been offering biathlon programs to the general public for about eight years, and it is only getting busier.
“It's been popular ever since we launched it and our capacity limit is based on the number of rifles we have as well as coaching capacity,” says Arienne Strong, program manager at Hardwood Ski and Bike.
The adult clinics are very popular. Get Out There reporter Diana Lee attended a clinic in 2019 and you can read about how that went here.
Those in attendance were as enthusiastic as she was. “I’ve always been intrigued and drawn to watching biathlon during the Olympics. I love when elements are fused! This beginner clinic was a great way to try my hand at skiing, steadying my breathing, and trying to hit a target! A wonderful adventure with friends,” said one participant.
Hardwood is best-known for its cross-country skiing during the winter months and mountain biking during the summer, butt here is a lot going on. Strong says Hardwood decided to add adult clinics about four years and hasn’t looked back.
“We had a bunch of adults asking if they could try it out, so we set it up for one day to come for two hours and check it out,” Strong says. “It sold out right away and it just kept growing from there. So now we’re up to a six-week adult program.”
Biathlon has a long history and is adapted from a military combined exercise. Once called “military patrol,” the event was contested at the Winter Olympic Games in 1924 and was put back into the Olympics as a biathlon in 1955.
The basic formate has contestants ski through a cross-country course, which is interrupted by two or four rounds of shooting from the prone and standing position. Penalties are added for missed targets and the competitor who completes the course in the shortest total time wins.
Strong says there are two things on which to focus when it comes to biathlon. There is marksmanship and skate skiing.
“Marksmanship takes a lot of training to learn the breathwork along with the shots,” Strong says. “Because in the race, you are bringing your heart rate up while you’re skiing and then you have to stop, your chest is heaving, your heart is pounding, and it’s much harder to aim at those targets.”
And the other aspect is developing the skills to become a proficient skate skier.
“So your cardio has to be up, your power has to be up. Nordic skiing work requires full-body training,” Strong says. “It’s one of the better sports up there with swimming and martial arts because it's a full body as well as just the power coming from your legs and your arms. And then the stability.”
Combing these two divergent skills is quite the feat.
“It is impressive when you get to a high level,” Strong says. The kids that are training on the teams, tend to train pretty much full year. When they get into provincial competition and international competitions, these kids are training full years so they're on the range all year long.”
The rifles required for biathlon and .22 caliber and biathlon specific and quite expensive.
“At 14 years and older, you're looking at getting a specific 22 rifle that is designed for biathlon. So it's lightweight. it’s a bit quieter, it's not as powerful of a rifle because you don't need it to be. It’s an investment to get into this sport as the competitive level rifles are, you know, into the thousands of dollars.”
At Hardwood, there is a supply of air rifles, or pellet guns, for their programming. And, then there is the cross-country ski equipment.
Strong says she expects the sport to grow even more following the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
“There's something about being able to practice your marksmanship and that satisfaction of you getting that shot, getting your first bull's eye,” she says. “It's very attractive. So we get people that have never skied before that want to come and try this, which is amazing because then we get to introduce them to everything we have here, we have more and more people that want to sign up for our longer programs for the adults.”
Looking for more ways to check out biathlon?
Biathlon Bears – Chelsea Nordiq (for kids!)
Biathlon - Canmore Nordic Ski Club
Biathlon Lessons | Whistler Olympic Park - Whistler Sport Legacies