BOZEMAN – Biathlon may not be one of the most popular winter sports when compared to the likes of figure skating and skiing, but it still requires a great deal of focus and agility. It’s a unique sport where cross-country skiing meats expert marksmanship.
Kelly Kjorlien coaches young adults at the Bridger Biathlon Club in Bozeman and said Montana is a good place for kids to get some experience in the sport.
“It’s a great chance for all of our athletes that live and train here in Bozeman to have a race experience,” Kjorlien said.
The Bozeman club even draws in athletes from nearby states like Utah, Washington and Colorado.
On the morning of Saturday Feb. 3, Kjorlien and her club were gearing up for a race at the Cross Cut Mountain Sports Center near Bridger Bowl.
Over 60 children participated in the pursuit race, which is one of a handful of the different types of biathlon races.
The pursuit race is a four stage race where athletes ski a total of five times and shoot targets in varying positions of prone and standing.
Kjorlien said there is a strong incentive to hit the target on the first try because there’s a penalty for each missed shot. For every shot missed, athletes must ski an additional 150 meters.
“You want to come in and hit all of your targets as quickly as you can and get out of the range as quickly as you can so you don’t have to do a penalty loop,” Kjorlien said.
Growing up in northern Minnesota, Kjorlien first learned about biathlons when she was 11 years old. She skied with the local ski club and noted that her hometown had a robust biathlon club.
“It’s super rewarding, really fun,” Kjorlien said. “The thrill of being involved in a biathlon race is really exciting. Especially when you’re feeling good on your skis, and then you come in you hit all five shots and get to just cruise right back on course.”
Now, Kjorlien shares the passion with kids and gets them excited about the sport. Kjorlien is the Executive Director at the Bridger Biathlon Club in Bozeman.
“It’s been really fun to be involved and see these kids figure out and start to learn from it,” Kjorlien said.
Ian Novak is one athlete in the club. Novak said challenging himself and his friends on the course is one of his favorite parts of the sport.
“It’s just the people that make it great,” Novak said. “There’s a lot of friends here and they all shoot and we can all challenge each other which makes it fun.”
Biathlon may not be the most widely played winter sport, but for Novak the challenge and thrill keeps him coming back for more.
“It starts to transcend all types of life. If you can do well in a biathlon race, you’ll be well equipped for the rest of life,” Kjorlien said.
Reporting by Jacob Fuhrer and Katie Alexander