Learn rifle marksmanship and Nordic skiing with Discover Biathlon. // © 2015 Whistler Sport Legacies/Noel Hendrickson
“Seeing is believing,” said Bill Moore, our guide at Discover Biathlon, a program offered by Whistler Sport Legacies in Whistler, British Columbia. “Today you’ll have the chance to see for yourselves just how challenging and exciting the sport of biathlon can be.”
A combination of Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship, biathlon is one of the most popular televised sports in Europe — and one of the least-understood sports in North America. Perhaps one of the reasons North Americans have been slow to embrace it is that most never get the chance to actually try it. But with Whistler Sport Legacies’ two-hour program at Whistler Olympic Park, visitors can experience the sport firsthand.
Our group lesson began with Nordic ski instruction that included the basics of gliding, turning and stopping. We were also taught techniques for building and maintaining speed, and we spent time practicing our newly acquired Nordic racing skills on the biathlon course.
After a brief gun-safety lesson, we moved on to rifle marksmanship training on the biathlon range that was used for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“A competitive athlete will fire 10,000 practice rounds per year at targets that are about one-tenth the size of the ones you’ll be using today,” Moore said. “Biathletes shoot from both the prone and standing positions but, for liability reasons, we can only shoot lying down today. We just can’t risk someone slipping and falling while holding a rifle.”
I suspected that last rule had been made with uncoordinated people like me in mind.
After some instruction on proper shooting techniques, we took turns lying down on the mat and firing a specially designed bolt-action, 22-caliber biathlon rifle at the targets. Then, we had a shootout challenge. I was well-rested by the time it was my turn, so I had no excuse for not hitting all the targets. Three out of five wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough to win. Luckily, an Olympic medal wasn’t on the line.
The Discover Biathlon program costs $79 for the group lesson and includes ski rentals. Guests can opt for just the lesson for $65. A trail pass is also required and costs about $24, but it allows you to ski the cross-country trails for the full day.
During my adventure, I stayed at Nita Lake Lodge, just outside downtown Whistler. Perched on the edge of a glacier-fed lake, the lodge is less than half a mile from the base of Whistler Mountain and the Creekside gondola. Rates start at $229 per night or $242 per night with breakfast.
I think our guide was right: Seeing really is believing. After a day at Whistler Olympic Park experiencing biathlon firsthand, I had a newfound appreciation for a misunderstood sport.