What the heck is No-Snow Biathlon?
To understand the No Snow Biathlon, you need to first know what a biathlon is.
The biathlon is a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and precision rifle shooting.
Competitors race for miles around a trail system whose total distance is divided into either two or four shooting rounds.
Shooting rounds are divided into standing and prone positions.
For each shooting round, the biathlete must hit five targets and receives a penalty for each missed target.
If you miss any of the targets, extra distance or time is added to your total running distance/time in the form of mini penalty laps.
The contestant with the shortest total time wins.
A very difficult sport
The biathlon a sport that has eluded elite American biathletes since it was first included in the Olympic Games in 1960.
Unlike other Olympic sports, Biathlon is one of the only sports the United States has never medaled in.
A small few have broken the Top 10 during the Biathlon Worlds Cup and Biathlon World Championship events in recent years.
However, when it comes to Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medals, American biathletes have struggled for over 75 years to make the podium.
Why does the United States do so poorly in Olympic Biathlon?
Most credit the superior quality of European training and talent.
But even after 75 years, one wonders what else could be done to overcome this losing streak.
So what is a young country (when compared to the European countries) like America to do when the competition looks unbeatable?
We do what was always do in this situation: rethink, retool, and build talent from the ground up!
This is where No Snow Biathlon comes into play.
To understand No Snow Biathlon, you must first consider the number of States in the United States with seasonal or longer than seasonal snow access.
Most Europeans grow up with skis on their baby stroller, learn how to ski has children, grow up in a skiing culture, and have strong cross-country skiing skills.
Additionally, the countries that dominate Olympic Biathlon all have mountain ranges with significant annual snowfall, or can quickly travel to ski slopes with little difficulty.
Meanwhile, many young Americans grow up without ever seeing snow until they are much older or have to travel to find snow during vacations.
Unless you live in a Northern State, a large majority of the American population doesn’t even have the opportunity to learn how to ski.
This cuts the potential pool of biathlon hopefuls by a significant margin.
The cost of the sport is another limiting factor.
Skis, poles, boots, clothes, lift ticket, and lessons are expensive enough.
Once you add in the cost of a quality rifle, ammunition, and hours of trigger time at a shooting range, the price of biathlon easily triples.
Now try to find a range NEXT to the ski lift, or even a coach who is familiar with some aspect of the sport.
Due to the lack of elite American biathlon athletes, there are few American coaches who teach the sport in the Olympic category.
Most have to go to Europe to find a coach, with many requiring a small fortune for their competitive knowledge.
Foreign coaching adds passports, visas, travel, and lodging to the overall costs.
Not to mention the need to live in remote mountain villas or luxury ski lodges to be near an established biathlon course, and possibly a translator or language lessons (considering many of the top 20 countries in Biathlon do not speak English).
Once you add all these very specific requirements up, you quickly come to realize that biathlon is one of the most exclusive and expensive Olympic sports there is.
But what if you’re a city kid who has never seen snow, but can shoot the beard off a turkey?
Could you be taught to ski AND shoot with enough time to ever have a chance to compete in Biathlon?
I say, Yes!
One approach I’ve discovered is the No Snow Biathlon, and it’s actually more common in the United States then I originally thought.
However, to get to the level of a potential Olympic biathlete, you need to focus on the key principles of the sport as follows:
#1 — Shooting… Lots and lots of shooting
The first key component to No Snow Biathlon is a rifle range.
You need some place to shoot, and you need it to have enough talented range masters to let you know if:
- You do not have a talent for shooting
- How you can improve your shooting skills
- How you can learn to shoot under pressure
Nothing helps build your Biathlon skills like competition — especially competition with other shooters.
Go find your nearby ranges, explore their programs, and become a member.
Most shooting clubs have .22 caliber rifles you can borrow or rent at the range, which can help you learn very quickly what makes a good rifle stand out from a bad one.
Then all that is left is shooting, shooting, and more shooting.
Many great marksmen have said that the secret to shooting well is shooting all the time.
Trigger time is essential to making you an expert shot provided you learn the proper techniques and practice with both relaxed and stressed.
Did I mention shooting?
Do lots of that too!
If you State or range will not support rifle shooting, you can start with air rifles that only shoot BBs or pellets.
The more precise the air rifle the better, so stay away from airsoft or paintball guns unless you can verify their accuracy.
Learning to shoot with an inaccurate rifle will only teach you bad habits that will be hard to break later.
An example of ranges that support rifle shooting:
#2 — Conditioning… lots and lots of conditioning
Endurance is the next key component to No Snow Biathlon, and every biathlete needs to have a high level of cardiovascular conditioning.
When you don’t have any snow, a fantastic source of cardio is trail running.
Before you can simulate the stress of long distance, cross-country skiing, you need to invest in a healthy amount of off-road trail running.
Trail running is an excellent alternative to building up your base strength without needing any snow.
Mountain biking works too, but there is nothing like trail running and trekking to make your legs and lungs feel the same stress you will experience during a biathlon.
Examples of trail running shoes that won’t cost you an arm or a leg:
#3 — Combining trail running with shooting
The No-Snow Biathlon concept is designed to combine your trail running with shooting.
During a real race, you will experience the heart-pumping rhythm of a long distance run, followed by the extreme need to calm yourself and shoot straight.
This is where biathletes are made.
The capability to go all out on the cross-country course, then slow your breathing to focus on shooting five tiny targets from various positions, then go all out again, is what makes this sport hard.
Because this fast-slow-fast-slow pattern is so difficult to master, the next stage of your journey should consist of running trails just outside the rifle range.
The trick is to go run, come into the range and shoot, then go run again.
If you miss, you run around the parking lot as a penalty, then run another lap before coming back and shooting again.
You can modify your shooting to include prone, kneeling, and standing positions, just like you would in a real competition.
You can also increase the distance of your trail run based on short or long distance training.
The goal to get as close as possible to simulating a real biathlon event.
#4 — Skiing with wheels
If your range doesn’t have any good trails or you need more cross-country skiing practice, the option of roller skis can also be utilized.
Just like in a real biathlon race, the time between transitioning from skiing to shooting and back is a critical factor.
Rollerskis can easily recreate the same pressures an athlete would experience when it comes to shooting after skiing and even provide the same issues with getting out and back into skis between shooting positions.
Unlike trail running, roller skis are three to four times more expensive than a good pair of trail shoes.
Roller Skis are also a specialty item that would be an obstacle for most athletes when it comes to racing in a No Snow Biathlon event.
However, you cannot ignore the reality that roller skis can give you in creating the near-snow experience.
Roller skiing isn’t perfect, but when you don’t have any snow, it could be a great way condition yourself for the endurance needed when you do get to do any cross-country skiing.
Roller Skis are not cheap, but you can get started here:
No Snow – No Problem
Recreationalists, endurance racers, off-road enthusiasts, and even potential biathletes now have more options than ever before to enter the world of biathlon without snow.
Newcomers to trail running or even roller skiing can also find the no-snow biathlon experience to be a welcome distraction.
For those interested in taking the no-snow principles into the alpine, any endurance conditioning that creates a strong physical base can benefit anyone looking to build an off-season, cross-country skiing physique.
With only a little bit of creativity, potential athletes in snowless regions can develop their own opportunities for simulating the near-real world conditions you will find in a biathlon event.
Here are some examples of no-snow biathlon events held during the Summer:
- U.S. Biathlon Team USA – Events
- Run and Gun / Gears and Guns Biathlon Weekend, Flat Rock Ranch, Comfort, TX
- Friends of Oil Creek State Park – Summer Biathlon, Rouseville, PA
Pennsylvania Biathlon – Gravel Biathlon, Altoona, PA
- Whistler Biathlon Society – Summer Biathlon Series, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Will it help create the next biathlon champion?
All Olympic athletes had to start somewhere.
More than a few elite American biathletes have been seen roller skiing across summer landscapes.
Don’t let a lack of snow dissuade you from the biathlon.
Create a no-snow biathlon environment in your own snowless local and begin building the endurance and technical skills that ALL biathletes need to be competitive.
It might just be the unfair advantage that leads you to be the first American biathlete to bring an Olympic medal home to the United States.
Until then, peace be the journey.