Biathlon Season Review

15.Mar.2017 by Alex Howe

I don’t post enough, I’ll be the first one to admit that. But, here it is. The whole season.

We started our winter season with a GRP pre-trials training camp in Canmore, Alberta.  Canmore is an awesome place to start the season because they do an amazing job preparing an early season loop.

Team training in Canmore.

The training center in Canmore saves snow all summer, then in early November they spread it on one of their smaller loops including the biathlon range. Teams from all over North America head out to take advantage of getting on some early snow before the racing season starts.

Emily training in Canmore.

We got in some good training with a bunch of volume and several good interval sessions. The last weekend of our camp we raced in the NORAM Cup, which is a great way to work out all the kinks and remember what racing feels like.

 

After the Canmore camp, the team traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota for trials. Coach Sam found us an awesome house on the lake just south of town and we settled in for some cold temperatures (which I have heard is pretty common out there). I had also heard plenty of stories about racing at Mt. Itasca, and let me tell you, they are all true.

Mass start at Mt. Itasca.

It is cold. Fleet supply is awesome. It is cold. There is a staircase on the course. It is cold. And you do change into your ski boots in a trailer.

All bundled up racing in Mt. Itasca.

Mother nature did not disappoint. It was cold. We ended up racing 3 of the 4 races that were scheduled because there was a forecasted high somewhere near -6 with wind chills around -18. The rest of the days we dealt with near zero temperatures, a little wind, and frozen fingers and toes. In the evenings we would jog to the end of the road with our down jackets on, quickly turn around, and sprint home. At the end of the week we were all very excited to be heading home to warmer weather and the holidays!

 

Shortly after the holiday break (which is one day according to Pepa), Emily, Hallie, and I left for the IBU Cup in Italy. The first weekend was being held up the valley from the tiny town of Martell.

View from the hotel in Martell.

The town is in the Sudtirol area of northern Italy, located just west of Bolzano. It is a narrow valley with hillside farms covering the steep walls on both sides. The farms are mostly small dairy farms, with a couple apple and strawberry growers mixed in. Each farm had a main barn connected to the house, with the livestock living under the hay mow. Even with the limited amount of sun that reached the valley each day, I was very excited to be surrounded by farms.

Biathlon range and stadium in Martell.

The venue was a 15 minute drive up the valley from our hotel, situated with the range against one side of the valley and a small ribbon of snow winding around through brown fields. Luckily the venue has snow making capabilities! The range had a river flowing through between the shooting points and the targets, and because it was at the end of the valley had some pretty strong winds that seemed to blow the whole time we were there.

Above the town of Martell, Italy.

The IBU Cup is very different from racing in North America, which was the only biathlon racing I had done up to that point. There are rigid guidelines of what you can wear, how many stickers you can have on your rifle, how big those stickers can be, and who can get into the ‘family club’ for free food. Racing at the IBU Cup has some major differences as well. There are far more racers, everyone is fast, everyone shoots fast, and everyone shoots well.

 

After getting rid of the butterflies in Martell, I traveled with the team to Arber, Germany. Bodenmais, the town we stayed in, is located in the Bavarian Forest in southeastern Germany.

Emily racing in Arber, Germany.

The venue was the first place where we raced on only natural snow, and it was snowy and windy the week we spent there. We were supposed to do an individual and a mixed relay, but due to gusting winds they canceled the relay.

Then we turned around and headed back to Italy for a week of training in Toblach. Right as we drove in we were excited to find that the skiing world cup was happening right there in town. We stopped by and got to see Ida, and watch the finals. Toblach is an amazing skiing town. They had almost no natural snow, but continuously were spreading man-made snow on 40+ kilometers of trail. There were ski trails through bare fields that went from town to town, covering miles of empty cow pastures in the process.

Watching the IBU World Cup in Antholz, Italy.

Once we were all well rested and had gotten some good training hours in, we packed up and took the long drive north to Poland for the Open European Championships. Duszniki, Poland is a spa town and attracts tourists from around the world. The town burns predominantly coal as a source of heat, which was a smell I had never really experienced before (Not a good smell). It also has one of the most well put together venues I have ever been to.

Racing the pursuit in Duszniki.

Everything from their wax rooms, to the course and range seemed new and well maintained.  We did another individual, a sprint, a pursuit, and a mixed relay.

After a fun week with lots of racing, we headed south to Slovakia for the last weekend of IBU races during the trip. Osrblie is a very small town that had a cluster of houses and a venue resembling a smaller version of Soldier Hollow.

Emily racing the pursuit in Osrblie, Slovakia.

Five weeks after we left, we arrived back home with more racing on the schedule. We had our next sets of trials in Jericho, and the following week in Lake Placid. Emily, Hallie, and myself qualified for two more weekends of racing in Finland and Estonia.

Kontiolahti, Finland was our first stop, just north of the city of Joensuu. Then venue is set on a plateau above a large lake. The race trails descend down off the edge of the plateau toward the lake before looping around and climbing several steep “walls” back into the range.

Kontiolahti stadium and range.

Emily racing up the “wall” in the pursuit.

Once we had climbed enough steep hills, we traveled south with all the other teams to Otepaa, Estonia for the last weekend of racing for the season. We finished the IBU season off with two relay races and two sprint races.

Otepaa, Estonia stadium.

Biathlon is a totally different game in Europe. Its amazing, frustrating, fast, and very accurate. I can’t wait to get back to training so next year I can get back over there and keep going toe to toe with those fast Euros!