Soldier Hollow Hosts Intermountain Biathlon Race
by Sara Donatello
Soldier Hollow Nordic Center, home to the United States Biathlon Association headquarters and location of the upcoming 2024 IBU World Cup, played host to the cross-country Super Qualifier races and biathlon Intermountain race January 26-28, 2024.
Over 650 youth and junior athletes traveled to Midway, Utah to race in the Super Qualifier with the hope of qualifying for the cross-country junior national championships, which will be held in Lake Placid, New York at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, March 11-14, 2024. Following the Super Qualifier races, John Farra, U.S. Biathlon Director of Sport Development, teamed up with Gerrit Garberich, Team SOHO Head Coach and Super Qualifier Chief of Competition, to organize the Intermountain biathlon race for athletes who partake in both cross-country skiing and biathlon.
“The IMD biathlon race was a super fun and lowkey event after two hard days of racing during the Super Q,” said Garberich. “Most of the racers skied at a controlled pace and kept the focus on shooting. It was a unique event in a mass start format with athletes having six spares to use however they saw fit over the four shooting stages. We had athletes represented at every level from those who were just getting into skiing and shooting and those who have represented their country on the international stage.”
Approximately 50 athletes stuck around on January 28 for the Intermountain biathlon race. The four shooting stage, five kilometer race, which falls on the short side of skiing, included no added penalty loops for missed targets, instead athletes received a time penalty of 15 seconds for each missed shot. While Soldier Hollow is known for its difficult climbs and high altitude, the course chosen was much less aggressive to keep the physiological stress low for the athletes and the greater attention paid to their performance on the range.
In addition to the 50 youth and junior athletes, local masters biathletes voiced interest in participating, so, without question, Farra and Garberich said yes. Though masters athletes are used to racing longer courses, the shorter race format was a hit amongst the group.
On top of the five kilometer race, a three kilometer novice “non-carry” race was organized for younger biathletes as well as for five new rookie athletes from around the western region looking to try biathlon. U.S. Biathlon provided two rifles and Soldier Hollow provided the remaining three for the rookies, while the other athletes in this competition were permitted to leave their rifles on a shooting rack.
To round out the day, a final “low heart rate” event brought a group of 30 athletes to the start line to participate in a four lap range shootout. Athletes shot four full magazines, with easy ski laps in between with a focus on everyone hitting the shooting mats at the same time to simulate a mass start shooting experience. Once the final shoot was complete, the winner was determined based on the number of targets hit. Two athletes shot 18 for 20, which came down to a head-to-head shoot off to crown the winner, who won Ritual chocolate, a local chocolate company in Utah.
Garberich added, “we finished the day with a four stage shootout for a bar of ritual chocolate that finished with a tie breaking shootout with everyone watching, giving those athletes a taste of what a World Cup may feel like for them one day!”
“This event serves as a great model for finding ways to provide biathlon racing experience to those who may already be participating in lots of ski racing for their high schools or for their regions,” said Farra. “Thanks goes to Soldier Hollow for offering this event and adapting the race format to minimize the ski stress on the athletes while still permitting 10 magazines of shooting experience between zero, racing and shootouts. Incorporating the masters population was also very well received and overall it offered an excellent racing experience for all the athletes involved. Everyone is already looking forward to next year!”