Members of the Colorado National Guard Biathlon Team hold a Colorado state flag at the completion of the 2020 National Guard Western Regional Biathlon Competition at Soldier Hollow, Utah, Jan. 6, 2020. The team expects to field a full roster of eight Soldiers to complete in the 2020 Chief National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships March 1-5, 2020, at Soldier Hollow. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Everett Darrow, Alaska National Guard)
By U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chip Hahn, Colorado National Guard
The sport of biathlon demands physical fitness, shooting ability, mental toughness, and resilience.
It combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting into a mentally demanding endurance sport over varying distances on a closed course. The object is to ski the course in the shortest time while hitting the most number of targets. If an athlete misses a target, a penalty lap of 150 meters is added to the athlete’s skiing distance which must be completed before the athlete can return to the race course.
The Colorado National Guard Biathlon team is gearing for the Chief, National Guard Bureau Championships March 1-5, 2020, at Soldier Hollow, Utah.
The team expects to field a full roster of eight Soldiers to complete in the individual sprint and pursuit races as well as the team relay and patrol race events at the former Olympic and current World Cup venue.
The CONG team’s season started at Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colorado, Dec. 6, 2019, where eight athletes participated in a three-day training camp.
Returning athletes had an opportunity to refresh their skills and refine their shooting and skiing technique. For the new athletes it was a chance to try the sport for the first time on challenging terrain at an elevation of 8,800 feet.
The snow camp included training on ski techniques and shooting fundamentals as well as a race with the Colorado Biathlon Club, a Boulder-based sports group which hosts biathlon training events and races throughout the winter months.
U.S. Army Capt. Max Woodfin, commander, Company D, 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, was among the first-time participants in December’s snow camp.
“Biathlon is a great chance to see National Guard Soldiers interacting with the community in a unique way,” Woodfin said. “The races are friendly and professional. The team is open and welcoming to athletes of differing abilities and skill levels.”
As a novice to the sport, Woodfin said he was surprised by the challenge of transitioning from skiing to shooting and then back to skiing.
“You really need to be aware of your body and what it is doing when you get ready to shoot,” he said. “Handling a rifle and engaging targets while fatigued and oxygen deprived carries some risk. Getting your mind and body to calm down is really important if you want to hit the target.”
Following training camp, the team competed at the National Guard Western Regional competition at Soldier Hollow the first week of January 2020.
U.S. Army Pfc. Garrison Dahn, Company B, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment won the men’s novice sprint and pursuit races. U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brianna Dahm and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paule Pupelyte, both of Company C, 1st Battalion, 168 Aviation Regiment, finished first and second, respectively, in the women’s novice races. The Colorado team tied for third placed with Oregon in the overall points standings behind Utah and Alaska.
U.S. Army Sgt. William Felts, a team leader in Company B, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, is in his third year of competition with the CONG team.
Felts said he saw the sport in the Olympics and was instantly interested in competing. He cites biathlon as one reason for joining the CONG.
“Biathlon reinforces basic Soldier skills. It helps improve my shooting ability, especially stress shooting,” Felts said. “Competing also helps me improve my skills in training other Soldiers on their individual weapons systems and winter field craft.”
Felts says he is drawn to endurance sports, and biathlon gives him an opportunity to put his physical fitness and shooting skills to the test.
“Biathlon requires a lot of physical effort throughout the entire race,” he said. “Racing with fatigue and shooting with a high heart rate is not easy. To do it well takes preparation and focus.”
While Felts gets personal fulfillment in overcoming mental and physical barriers and pushing himself in challenging situations, he also sees a benefit to his unit, a rifle company in the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain).
“The experience I’ve gained from biathlon has helped me improve my unit’s skills and abilities in winter survival and winter patrolling,” he said.
The CNGB Championships should provide a real test to the Colorado athletes competing. The world-class race venue is known for its steep climbs, fast snow, and rapidly changing weather. Athletes will need to be well prepared to do well at Soldier Hollow.
Last year’s championships, held at Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont, drew over 120 athletes from 21 states, making it one of the largest biathlon competitions in North America.