Biathlon: Grab your gun and your skis

  • Sat Mar 3rd, 2012 10:48pm
  • Sports

By Jennifer Buchanan The Herald

Welcome to the world of biathlon, a winter sport combining the highly aerobic discipline of cross-country skiing with precision target shooting. It’s a challenging endeavor that requires you to be fit enough to ski hard and then recover quickly enough to drop your heart rate in order to shoot well.

If the sport intrigues you, the Washington Biathlon Association hosts races at its home range at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center. The Nordic Center is located just east of the Stevens Pass summit. The WBA has two more races this season — on March 10 and 11.


The sport can be traced to early man, who hunted or fought on skis in northern regions. The first recorded biathlon race was organized near the border between Sweden and Norway in 1767, but regular competitions were not held until the early 20th century. In the mid-1800s, Norwegian soldiers began using a form of the sport as a training exercise.

Although it has been around in one form or another for more than two centuries, the biathlon didn’t become an official Olympic sport until 1960. Women weren’t allowed to compete in an Olympics biathlon until 1992.


In biathlon competitions, participants ski various laps or distances carrying their rifle and ammunition with them at all times. Interspersed with the skiing are two or four shooting bouts, with half of the shooting done in a prone position and half done standing up.

In each shooting round, biathlon competitors must hit five circular targets, each set about 160 feet away. Targets for the prone position measure 1.8 inches in diameter; in the standing position they are 41/2 inches.

There are normally time penalties or extra penalty laps for each missed shot, so good shooting means less distance skied.


Biathletes use a small bore, .22 caliber rifle and Long Rifle rimfire cartridges, which became the competition standard in 1978. Before that, more powerful rifles, such as the .30-06 Springfield, and high-power centerfire cartridges were the norm.