I took my 42-year old body and my 25-year old rifle to the Snowflake Nordic Ski Center in Duluth, MN. After almost five years of hibernation, the biathlon range there was opening again for business.
Young biathletes, John Gould, and other volunteers form the Duluth/Esko Biathlon club. Last summer they worked hard to put the range back to use. Many volunteers like Dave Israel, Steve Fairbanks, Maura Goessling and Greg Rupert are parents of promising young athletes in this Olympic sport that combines cross-country skiing with rifle marksmanship. I asked John why he was gung-ho to reopen the facility. He said, “I’m using the principles of Sun Tzu. If we’re ever going to catch a nation like Germany in this sport, we have to make it happen.”
It’s a good thing that John has a warrior spirit. It’s hard enough to groom trails, setup, and time a simple ski race. In biathlon, there’s also a shooting range with all the associated metal targets, shooting lanes, and signage that have to be maintained out in the elements. Luckily, John didn’t have to start from scratch. About ten years ago, the owner of Snowflake, George Hovland, worked with the Duluth Biathlon Association to create the range they are using today. But, without constant attention, a facility like this quickly falls into disrepair. That’s where enthusiastic volunteers come in. Their hard work changed the range from a weed-filled pit into a fully operational 12-point biathlon range fit for a competition.
The refurbished range hosted Minnesota Cup Race #7, a Mass Start Biathlon on 3 January. It drew people from as far away as Canada and Madison, Wisconsin. Like most sports in the Winter Olympics, biathlon is very dependent on a venue. Ski jumps, bobsled runs, and biathlon ranges are rare and unique facilities. Minnesota had four active biathlon ranges until Snowflake’s came back on line. That’s makes only five in the entire state. In this sport, if you build it, they will come. And they did.
Raleigh Goessling led the charge for the Duluth/Esko crew, winning the Youth Men division, followed later on by Erik Rupert in 3rd and and Joe Fairbanks in 5th. Luke Israel won the Boys division followed up by Ethan Fairbanks in 3rd. Carolyn Lucca won the Girls division. Since these local athletes are Youth division and younger, there’s a bright future for Duluth/Esko Biathlon. Raleigh Goessling has already qualified to represent the US at the Youth World Biathlon Championships in Sweden in January/February of 2010.
After I locked up last place in the men’s division, I talked to George Hovland who said he felt that that Snowflake Nordic Ski Center was “under-utilized.” Mr. Hovland was a Olympian in the Winter Games of 1952. His ski area has helped produce local biathletes like Carolyn Bramante, an Olympian in Torino in 2006. Duluth’s current crop of young biathletes, volunteer parents, and John Gould will keep George’s biathlon range busy for a long time to come.
For more information, visit http://minnesotabiathlon.com/