Just What Is the Biathlon, and Why Does It Combine Skiing With Shooting?


Qualifying and training for the 2018 Winter Olympics, commonly known as PyeongChang 2018, is underway. The biathlon will be included, among more well-known sports like ice hockey and figure skating. Although the biathlon, a combination of Nordic-style skiing and precision shooting, is popular in Europe, it’s more unknown in other areas.

What is the Biathlon?

Biathletes are adept at both cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Their suits are designed to minimize wind resistance while providing ample movement. They use a freestyle method of skiing, with skis that are shorter than conventional cross-country skis and that attach only at the toe, allowing for the foot to move more spaciously than alpine bindings.

High-powered military rifles are used, with non-optic sights and straight-pull-bolt action. Although the rifles are light, they must weigh at least 7.7 pounds by rule. The biathletes carry their rifles in a harness holding standard .22 caliber long-rifle shot made from lead alloy or lead with its magazine holding five rounds.

The biathletes fire at metal discs in a small box, hooking an arm sling made of webbing to their upper arm where a firing cuff is, which provides stability. A different-colored disc flips up whenever they hit the target to indicate the hit. Computers also keep track.

As for why the sport exists in the Winter Olympics, it’s partly as an ode to hunting methods traditionally used in Scandinavian countries. The first recorded biathlon competition dates back to the 18th century when the militaries of Sweden and Norway faced off. The biathlon made its Olympic debut at the 1924 Winter Olympics in France.

Become a Biathlete

If you enjoy watching highlight videos of the biathlon and are interested in trying it yourself, there are a few things to keep in mind.

When training, focus on cross-country skiing and taking practice at a rifle range — separately, of course. Lower level biathlon events exist in most countries, and they include people of varying skill levels. During the summer, many biathletes go through basic endurance training, going as far as to duplicate cold and harsh conditions in some cases.

Hiring an instructor is essential, especially for safety. Skiing and shooting have severe injury risk if you’re not aware of safety. A qualified instructor will be well educated on handling and caring for rifles, in addition to preventing skiing injury.

Many biathlon clubs offer training and more. Plus, you can often use their .22 caliber rifles on site without purchasing your own, a lofty investment considering they can cost over $1,000. It can be well worthwhile if you decide to seriously pursue the sport, though it’s essential to undergo some level of training and acquainting yourself with the basics before deciding. Twenty percent of gun owners own guns for recreation, an indication of shooting sports’ evolution from the more obscure into Olympic-bound events, so don’t be wary of purchasing a gun solely for the sport.

Feel free to look up your local biathlon club, or consider a vacation to somewhere where the weather is ideal. Especially in snowy climates in Europe, there is bound to be a community interest in biathlon. A sport that’s friendly for all ages and growing in popularity due to its Olympic status, the biathlon is a fun and rewarding activity that most people can try and enjoy.

About the author: Scott Huntington