Each winter the WBA (Washington Biathlon Association) organizes a 2-day wintertime introduction to biathlon clinic at the Steven’s Pass Nordic Center. This event is open to all ages but is normally limited to ~20 participants. This year, however, there was so much demand that the Association was able to double enrollment by having one group learn about shooting the first day and skate-skiing the second day (normally the order is reversed). Since our kids have sufficient skating experience from the JNP (Junior Nordic Program), we only participated in the shooting clinic this year.
After renting skis for Liam and a very efficient check-in organized by Bryn Black (WBA Treasurer), Bob Valor taught us about biathlon with an emphasis on safety and best practices at the range. After an hour of information, including a couple short videos, we completed our safety training and were given certification cards. Then we packed some extra clothes (having been warned of the exceptionally frigid temps) jumped on our skis and skated up to the range. It’s about 3 km and mostly uphill, so you get a good warm-up! Cora and I were the last to make it there, but thankfully she was still in good spirits and jumped right into the shooting instruction. I brought Liam’s rifle, but it turned out the Association was able to provide enough Anschutz biathlon rifles for both kids, as well as the ~15-18 other students lined up at the range. (Plus, it was really just too busy and cold to put his rifle together and zero it. Thankfully, the volunteers had not only set up the range for us, but also zeroed all the Association’s rifles!)
Cora was assigned to Grete in lane 10, but Dave in lane 9 gave Cora some tips at the same time he kept Liam busy with both shooting and increasingly tough skiing challenges. Both volunteer instructors were great, both in the way they kept the kids active and motivated, and just for being cheerful and fun on a sub-freezing day without being able to be active enough to stay warm. It was indeed bitter cold, but as long as you kept moving and occasionally stood in front of the propane heater, there wasn’t too much suffering. The first hour or so included instruction about how to: load a magazine with 5 bullets; insert and remove the magazine; get in a good prone position with the rifle on a supporting block; find your natural point of aim; knock down some white dots; and re-set your targets.
There was a brief break where some folks grabbed a bite to eat (normally it would have been a full lunch break, but folks were too cold to sit still). We chewed some chocolate while we walked out with Bryn for a quick orientation to how the targets work. By poking through the holes, we felt how much impulse it takes to knock a target down. We also saw up close the difference in diameters of the prone (11.5 cm) and standing (4.5 cm) target. By grabbing the pull line right next to the target, we got a feel for how a little tension resets the targets, while increased tension switches between target sizes.
Then there were two fun races (no score was kept) where Cora and Liam zoomed around a short course between two rounds of prone shooting. Both seemed way into it and really focused when shooting. Cora managed to shoot clean a couple times and Liam was consistently knocking down 3-5, despite feeling a little frustrated.
I re-loaded a bunch of magazines and tried to make sure the kids stayed warm enough. I did take Liam up on his invitation to shoot a round prone and a round standing. It was great having contacts instead of glasses (which fogged up badly when I tried a race 2 winters ago) but I think my right eye was still a bit blurry. Re-learning how to hook in the stabilizer strap will help, I think, because shooting standing in the gusting wind it was tricky to keep the sight aligned long enough to squeeze the trigger.
In the end, we all packed up the range and headed back to the Nordic Center about 1.5 hours early. Liam zoomed ahead while Cora and I stopped occasionally to throw snowballs and whack snow off the tree limbs. It was delightful to enter the toasty center, re-hydrate, and try some of their fairly-healthy food options, including a baked potato, vegetable soup, and self serve hot cocoa, cider, and coffee.