Fast-paced Nordic skiing and accurate target shooting. Struggling to control your breathing, as you shoot at sets of targets either standing or prone. Which you are supposed to hit. Ski fast, shoot straight. Skiing. Shooting. Got it. And that’s supposed to be fun? I gave it a try.
How does it feel to get started in a sport you only know from TV? One that combines speed, intense competition and grace under pressure. Athletes finishing a tough, hilly lap of skiing, coming into the shooting range with heart and lungs working, and having to steady themselves enough to hit five circular targets at a distance of 50 meters, either prone (lying down) or standing. The targets are in the size of a palm and every missed target means having to ski a penalty lap.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, the image of ‘skin-tight-lycra-clad athletes’ with rifles slung over their backs, skating along narrow trails is what comes to mind. I have checked out that quirky, gruelling event that combines two athletic opposites – cross-country skiing and shooting – on TV and felt like a wimp. And thinking of trying biathlon myself sounded about as realistic as flying to the moon. After all, I’m not a competition type of person. I do sports for fun. Well, I used to feel that way.
Then I found myself lying down on the ground, aiming a rifle at targets in the distance with a coach right next to me. I had signed up for a short biathlon clinic at Erpfendorf Biathlon Center near St. Johann in Tirol. I aimed the rifle and pulled the release trigger and – hit! The sharp clang of the target going down was a satisfying “clank”! Okay, it was only half the shooting distance of ‘real’ biathlon and I didn’t ski to the range, but hey, who cares.
First, the biathlon coach collected our long poles. She placed her hands on her hips and glided away in perfect skating style. Following her was easier said than done. Despite being a proficient freeride skier, it seemed my years on snow counted for nothing as I strapped into the narrow toothpick-like skis. It really felt like skiing on toothpicks. But hey, it’s all a matter of balance.
And finally, the race. A test of speed and skill, the dual winter sport of biathlon combines the exhilaration of cross-country skiing with the marksmanship of target shooting. None of us had ever tried biathlon before, and some had never cross-country skied. Like me. But the coaches assured us that we could do it. And then, they divided us into two teams to compete against each other in a relay race. As for my team and me, we neither skied exceptionally fast, nor hit very many targets during the introduction unit. The same was true for our opponents. But hey, competition? That doesn’t sound so hard. What’s the big deal? And yet there is that kind of dark horse, come-from-behind excitement…
The starter’s gun is fired. My partner has mastered the first lap well, we are in the lead. She initiates me on my path in the hand-over zone. I pick up the long poles and push them into the snow, the skis move forwards and my upper body leans back. Oh no, please, not now! Please, please, please. Ten meters later, I proceeded to fall over, much to the hilarity of the audience. I have been over motivated. My opponent overtakes me, gliding elegantly. I get up on my feet again and try to push a little less aggressive. It works. I’m skiing as fast as I can. Yeah, they cheer me on! The lap seems to be endless, although it’s a mere 200 meters. Eventually, I’m reaching the shooting range. Stop! Well, yes, I still can master the snowplough. I switch into standard prone position target. The skis are in my way, anyway. I don’t mind, however. I try to slow my heart, to steady my hand and to sight my rifle. It’s a challenge unlike much else I do in everyday life. It’s a challenge of slowing down and focusing on demand. Breathe and shoot. Once. Twice. Another breath, and I knock down one more target. This means that there is no penalty lap for me. After covering my part, I tag the next team member in the hand-over zone. We are in the lead. Until we reach the finish line. We won! We were full of endorphins and there was much merrymaking. Rejoicing. Euphoria. Awesome! Although I’m not a competition type of person, I was drawn into participation. It’s very strange.
Discover the growing sport with one of the unique Biathlon Programs offered in Tirol this winter.