Biathlon is now on target at many XC ski areas across the country. The sport of biathlon combines cross country (XC) skiing and target shooting. The roots of biathlon are traced to Scandinavia in the mid 1700's, and currently in Europe it is the most popular winter sport attracting 700 million annual television viewers. XC ski areas in the US are now offering 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 a one minute added on the competitor's time or skiing a penalty lap.

The Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, NY has scheduled biathlon lessons on 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 1998 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, UT 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.

The Craftsbury Outdoors Center in Craftsbury, VT has recreational biathlon programs for adults and youth competition programs. A program in West VA at White Grass Touring Center is the BB Biathlon with scheduled activities on Jan 22, Feb 12, and March 5 held at 1:00 PM where you ski and shoot 9 shots at 3 targets and everyone wins.

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 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. There's another paintball biathlon called the Valentine's Day celebration on Feb 19 at Gunstock Mountain Resort, NH.

In the Rockies, XC ski areas with biathlon programs include the Rendezvous Ski Trails in West Yellowstone, MT where biathlon is a cornerstone of winter activity and there is a free "Try Biathlon Day" on Jan 8; Bohart Ranch in Bozeman, MT with the Bridger Biathlon Club; and at Sun Valley, ID with the Casper Mountain Biathlon Club. In the west, check the Auburn Ski Club in the Tahoe, California region for its biathlon programs and the Methow Biathlon in Mazama, WA on the Methow Trails. Check Google or other web search service for a biathlon club or program in your area. Photo: Biathlete Lesson; ORDA Dave Schmidt