North Country
5:58 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Shooting And Skiing At The Jackson Biathlon Range

North Conway's Sean Doherty, at 18, is the youngest member of the US Olympic Biathlon team.  While most people know the Biathlon combines skiing with shooting, the finer points are a little elusive.  NHPR's Sean Hurley recently visited the Jackson Biathlon range - the only dedicated course in New Hampshire - to find out more about the sport.

A visit to the Jackson Biathlon Range.

I ski hard across the dipping snow fields to get my heart pounding - drop to my belly in the target box and wrap myself around an Izhmash - a .22 caliber Russian Biathlon rifle.  50 meters away, the golf ball sized target jitters in my front sight.  I exhale - hold steady - pull the trigger - shoot off five rounds and ski away. 

Sean's first shot. A bull's eye! Not.
Credit Wayne Peterson

Wayne Peterson, owner of the Jackson Biathlon Range, looks through his scope to see how I've done.  He shakes his head - either with amazement that a novice shooter with only an hour of training and really thick glasses can shoot so well - or because I am the worst shot he's ever seen.  A hay and cattle farmer most of the year, Peterson turns the family's rolling patchwork of fields into a ski and shoot course beside the looming twin crown of Doublehead Mountain.

Nordic skiing in the States is a fringe sport to begin with and this is a fringe sport of a fringe sport. 

The fringe of the fringe here, but -

In Europe, Biathlon is the largest winter televised sport.

World cup events will draw upwards of 80,000 fans. 

And while Norway France and Belarus have been the big Biathlon winners at Sochi, the US has never won an Olympic Biathlon medal. 

As with the curious sport of curling that seems to mix shuffleboard with housekeeping, the Biathlon crosses the woodsy pastime of skiing with target shooting.

It's kind of like mixing together two things that don't seem like they would go?
Well, yeah, that's the dichotomy of it. I mean high level skate skiing or nordic skiing, you are right at your aerobic threshold.   Right and then you ski up to the range and you have to really change your mentality.  You have to switch - Ok I was a skier, now I'm a shooter.

Therein lies the lure of the sport.  The artful transition from peak action to peak stillness.

So the race, you start off and you go out and you ski a lap that's anywhere from a 1/2 kilometer to 1 and 3/4 kilometers in length then you come back into the range, it's always a loop.  And you transition into being a shooter.

You take five shots at five targets.

If you missed two, then you go and ski two penalty laps.  And they're around 200 meters long.  They want to be long enough so it makes a difference to your skiing time.

Though it hasn't been officially posted, Peterson, who coaches a junior team, believes North Conway's Sean Doherty will likely be a candidate for the US Team's Biathlon Relay.

The way we kind of look at it is this range may produce the next Sean Doherty.  And we have a junior team that's training here.  He's come up here a couple times and he's skied around with the kids that are on my junior team and he's an idol to them. 

We arrive downrange to look at my target sheet and my five shot group.  

Wayne Peterson downrange.
Credit Sean Hurley

You are not the worst first time novice shooter I've ever seen.  So right now, you have, not a terribly bad group.

There are many ways that Peterson could let me know that I am, in fact, the worst first time novice shooter he's ever seen.  The sound of him adjusting the rifle's sight is clear enough.

You wouldn't normally make that huge an adjustment for somebody that was shooting but -

But seldom does a shooter come along so poor of eye, so nervous of hand.  I shoot again with the adjusted sight.

Oh don't look at the scope!

Peterson looks through the scope.  Shakes his head.  Kneels down beside me to adjust the sights again.

Ski's, shoots, leaves, and crashes
Credit Wayne Peterson

I ski away into the field and without any good reason simply crash into the flat, well groomed trail.  And there in the snow in my own way discover the artful transition from peak action to peak stillness that all Biathletes must master. 

For more information on the Jackson Biathlon Range visit:  http://www.jacksonbiathlon.org/