Biathlon range out in the boonies

The Yukon biathlon team members look like they just stepped out of Marvel Comics. Lined up like super heroes, the three Spandex-clad athletes train…

The Yukon biathlon team members look like they just stepped out of Marvel Comics.

Lined up like super heroes, the three Spandex-clad athletes train their rifles on paper targets.

“They have to hold that pose for five minutes,” said interim biathlon coach Cassandra McCollum.

It warms up the muscles.

“We’re shooting on paper tonight,” she added, cleaning her Fortner rifle.

Most of the time the team trains at night in the shadow of Grey Mountain, and paper targets help record the athletes’ accuracy. Or lack of it.

“It’s hard to see the targets in the dark,” said 18-year-old shooter Jeremiah Kitchen.

“The dark shouldn’t matter,” barked McCollum, a twinkle in her eye.

“All three athletes have good skiing, cardio-fitness,” she said.

“We just need to build up their shooting.

“They all do great shooting in the summer and fall, but put skiing in there and it changes.”

After skiing several kilometers, the athletes have to focus, control their breathing and shoot, before repeating the whole cycle again.

“The hardest part is calming yourself down enough to shoot,” said 16-year-old Jodi Gustafson.

The newest team member, Gustafson gave up a trip to Hawaii to compete in the Winter Games.

“My parents are still going,” she said with a laugh.

“They’re leaving me here.

“But Hawaii will always be there — the Games won’t.”

Gustafson used to shoot with her dad, who is a conservation officer, and has always enjoyed skiing.

Combining the two sports seemed like a good challenge, she said.

McCollum wanted Gustafson to try shooting with the Fortner that night.

It’s faster than the club rifles, which are bolt action, she said.

But Gustafson already had a trusty club rifle slung on her back.

The rifles are heavy, and racing through the bush with them is a feat in itself.

“A lot of skiers say their sport is harder,” said 19-year-old Ryan Knight.

“But in a lot of cases we go longer distances carrying a rifle and have to shoot during the race.”

This will be Knight’s second Canada Winter Games, and he plans to stay a little warmer this time around.

“At the last Games in New Brunswick, me and a guy from the Northwest Territories got hypothermia,” he said.

“It was 20 below and there were 110-kilometre winds.”

The cutoff for this event is minus 20, said biathlon president David Knight.

Otherwise, it’s too hard on the lungs and too cold to shoot, he said.

Outside the portable, a row of haphazard targets sit against the far embankment.

“We’re trying to level all the targets,” said David.

The Canada Games was supposed to help the team prepare for the event, but so far only David and volunteers spend their weekends building bleachers, fences and prepping the ski trails.

The Cadets are holding their national championships at the biathlon range a week after the Games, and they have also been putting in lots of work, he said.

With no Games transportation heading out to the biathlon range, and limited parking along Grey Mountain Road, David hopes spectators will be able to come to the events.

Although he hasn’t heard anything yet from the Games, he feigns calm.

“I’m sure someone has that well in hand,” he said.

Tightening up armbands and pulling on ski boots, the team was preparing to head outside.

“I use up too much energy at work to train,” said Ryan, who’s in construction.

“I carry stuff up and down stairs all day, then leave early Tuesday and Thursday to come here.”

Kitchen, also out of school, works as a lifeguard, musician and substitute teacher.

And, after seeing a biathlon event at the Olympics, he decided to stick one more feather in his cap.

“I just wanted to try it,” he said.

 “I feel like Bond,” he added grabbing his rifle.

Kitchen wants to race in a tuxedo.

“But not until I’m good and win every time,” he said with a laugh.

“And since I’m not, I shouldn’t call that much attention to myself.”

Biathlon is way more fun than regular cross-country skiing, said longtime coach Scott Fraser, who was there to practise with the team.

“You get to play with more toys.”

In the last few years, Fraser has passed the torch to McCollum, whom he used to coach.

“It’s taken awhile for that transition to happen,” he said, pulling bullets out of a small cardboard box.

“People weren’t able to step up right away, so I coached for 15 years.”

In the leadup to the Games, the biathlon team will be using a coach from Alberta.

The team has always been small.

And Fraser blames this on location.

“It would be nice to have a range at the Canada Games Centre,” he said.

“I think there would be a lot more athletes if there were.”

But money is a problem for the team.

And there might be some politics with shooting and city zoning, said Fraser.

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