Skate, breathe, aim & fire

The biathlon takes agility, steadiness, concentration and speed. Nordic skiing around a course as fast as possible, tossing aside your poles, lying on the snow, positioning your rifle, controlling your breath and taking aim at five small targets with a steady hand all while your heart is racing is quite a feat. Watching the sport during the Olympics, one can only imagine the training that an athlete must do to win.


Sally Jones | Tahoe Donner Cross Country

Tahoe Donner Cross County offers laser biathlon clinics to experience what it is like to stride or skate ski around a course and shoot a laser rifle that simulates the real thing. I recently signed up for a biathlon clinic to check it out firsthand.

Sally Jones, program director of the Nordic Ski School, explained that much of the focus would be on handling the rifle, positioning the body on the ground and how to shoot at the target while less focus would be on Nordic skiing. For me, shooting a rifle at a target is no problem. I was taught how to handle a gun at a range and was a pretty good shot. Maybe it was that due to the fact that my former partner gave me a handgun for a birthday gift one year. It would be my limited Nordic experience that would challenge me.


“I took five more shots hitting all the targets. Excited, I pushed myself up and skated another loop.”


Glenn Jobe, a former 1980’s Biathlon Olympian who teaches private stride and skate ski lessons at Tahoe Donner and is also the program director and biathlon coach at the Auburn Ski Club, was on hand to share some of his knowledge. He is passionate about the sport. He trained for seven years to be in the Olympics.

“Biathlon started with striding, but in 1988 that changed and it’s all skate skiing now,” explains Jobe.

With five instructors and 12 participants ranging in ages from seniors to high school students, we began our lesson. A few folks chose to use snowshoes. Tom McElroy, the Tahoe Donner laser biathlon coach, showed me the ropes. He instructed me to lie down on the carpet at a slight angle, press my hips into the ground, rest on my elbows while holding the rifle and aim the sight at the five tiny circles 10 meters away.

“Use your breath and control your breathing,” he said. He was speaking my language. “Take three long breaths and on the third breath exhale halfway and pull the trigger.” I took careful aim and hit the first target and then the next four in succession each while taking my time and using my breath.

022516-Biathlon_Tom-McElroy-teaching-how-to-shoot_c.PriyaSally Jones | Tahoe Donner Cross Country

For the next step, I put on the striding skis and took a lap around the loop. Can I say awkward? Skiing on skinny skis can be challenging. After a few laps, I got the hang of striding with some additional help from instructor Brad Johnson. Around I went and then down on my knees as my long skis pitched out behind me and my poles rested on the back of my legs. I took five more shots hitting all the targets. Excited, I pushed myself up and skated another loop.

After a few laps Johnson suggested I try skate skis. I traded in my striders and put on skate skis. OK, this was even more awkward. Brad explained the technique as I wobbled around the course. It wasn’t until he spoke in yoga terms that I finally got a bit of a stride going.

To mimic a biathlon, we were set to task with a relay race. I swallowed hard as I’d only just put on the skate skis. We broke into groups. Brad and I were on the same team. Penalty laps were issued for each target missed. Brad lapped the course with ease, incurring a few penalty shots. I went next. I slowly made my way around the course. No problems shooting. Up and around a second time trying to get the hang of the skinny skate ski motion, while my heart was beating hard, I laid down for a second round of shots incurring two penalty shots.

What a hoot. I had a ton of fun target shooting on skis. Instructors Rick Eckert, Vaughn Vajgrt and volunteer Teri-Ann Schwensow were patient teaching all of the participants how to manage on skis, use rifles and breath.

Tahoe Donner Cross Country is having a bang out specular season. I recommend a run up to Tahoe Donner to experience this fun and engaging clinic.

For more information, visit


Intro to laser biathlon clinics

Feb. 27 | 10 a.m. adults | 11:30 a.m. youth

March 26 | 10 a.m. adults | 11:30 a.m. youth


Explore the biathlon in Tahoe & Truckee
Shooting & skiing | By Tim Hauserman