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What is Biathlon?

Biathlon is perhaps one of the most unique winter sports as it combines the two seemingly unrelated sports of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The origins of the biathlon trace back to Scandinavia, where hunters would traverse winter terrain using skis with rifles in order to capture prey. The earliest recorded competitions date back to the 18th century, when ski and rifle type events were held.

The modern recreational version of the sport may be more peaceful than its historical roots as a survival technique, but the winter biathlon remains one of the most competitive international sports. Most of current rules were standardized in 1948, and biathlon has been featured as an official Winter Olympic sport since 1960.

Shooting during Biathlon event


How to Learn Biathlon

Before trying your hand and skis at the biathlon, it is helpful to have proficiency or basic familiarity with both rifle shooting and skiing prior to participating. To put it gently, biathlete is not the easiest sport for a beginner to practice. Many skiers began learning the sport from a young age. Shooting is another skill which can take thousands of hours of practice at the shooting range in order to perfect marksmanship. During the shooting portion of biathlon events, targets are placed at a fifty meter distance.

Is it easier to learn to cross country skiing or marksmanship first? Many Olympic biathletes begin as competitive skiers since due to levels of endurance training required. Biathletes are often scouted from collegiate or professional cross country ski teams. However, learning how to correctly shoot in a fast and efficient manner can give a serious advantage to those considering trying out for the sport.

How to Participate

Biathlon is still very popular in its native homeland countries of Norway and Sweden. Other European countries such as France and even Belarus often produce top biathletes as well. Many countries belong to the International Biathlon Union, which publishes a list of Venues in Europe in nations such as Germany, Russia, and Sweden.

Similar to other Winter Olympic sports, beginner biathlon experiences are offered at two locations in the United States. The Lake Placid Olympic Sports Village and Park City’s Cross Country Ski resort offer beginner experiences, including the option to use rifles used by previous Olympic athletes. This can be a great option to simply try out the sport without investing thousands of dollars or hours to train for competitive events.

Biathlon Gear and Equipment 


For shooting, the majority of biathlon events now use a standardized .22 caliber rifle strapped over the shoulder of the individual participant. Olympic biathletes are required to carry a rifle with a minimum weight of 3.5 kilograms, roughly 8 pounds. Individual participants receive 5 bullets, although relay events allow 3 additional bullets.


For the skiing portion of the event, cross-country skis are used. Additionally, each participant is fitted with the proper boots, bindings, and poles. A snow cover and an arm cuff are also issued to prevent snow from entering the barrel for the rifle and to provide support during the shooting portion. Skis should include cross-country boots and bindings, along with poles with appropriate biathlon straps.


In order to secure their equipment, biathletes use a specialized sling or harness to strap their rifle on their shoulders during competition.


International Biathlon Union

United States Biathlon Association

Where to Learn Biathlon in the U.S.

Lake Placid, NY

Soldier Hollow, UT

Directory of Biathlon Clubs and Associations

United States


Alaska Biathlon Association | Anchorage, AK

Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage | Anchorage, AK

Fairbanks Biathlon Club | Fairbanks, AK


Fort Kent Outdoor Center | Fort Kent, ME


Minnesota Biathlon | Elk River, MN

New York

Lake Placid Biathlon Club | Lake Placid, NY

Saratoga Biathlon Club | Hadley, NY

Syracuse Biathlon Club | Osceola, NY


Harvard Sportsmen’s Club | Harvard, MA


Ethan Allen Biathlon Club | Jericho, VT


Washington Biathlon Association | Issaquah, WA