Biathlon is one of the world's most compelling sports. Combining cross-country skiing - the ultimate strength endurance sport - with marksmanship, all can be made or lost on the shooting range. It requires incredible skill, as well as physical and mental strength. Originally practiced by border guards patrolling Europe's snowy and mountainous frontiers, it is now a hugely popular spectator sport. In Germany it is second only to football in TV audiences.
Biathlon in the UK, like cross-country skiing, was traditionally dominated by the military. But in recent years, skiers such as Scott Dixon from Scotland and Holly Rees-Lay from the Thames Valley have been emerging from local clubs to take on the country's best military biathletes. Last year a laser biathlon race series began in England, combining running with shooting. And in other parts of Europe, notably Norway and Germany, city centre 'Summer Biathlon' competitions have been run on rollerskis with real biathlon rifles, with the world's best winter biathletes taking part. So overall, interest and participation has grown considerably.
Martin Watkins has had a long career in biathlon and cross-country skiing. Starting with biathlon, he was GB junior biathlon champion in 1981 and 1982, and took part in the 1982 biathlon World Championships. Switching to cross-country skiing, he then took part in the 1984 Sarajevo and 1988 Calgary Olympic Games. After leaving the Army, he became a founding member of the Wessex Biathlon and Nordic Ski Club and remains a biathlon and cross-country ski racer, and coach at the club, Army and national level. He is the coach of up-and-coming junior biathlete, Titus Clark from Wiltshire.
The laser rifles do not use bullets but a completely eye-safe laser (of a similar kind to lasers used in barcode readers). The 'beam' is picked up by a receiver placed 10m away. The rifles are very similar in look and feel to the .22 rifles used in real biathlon, and have been developed specifically for biathlon training. The system has been used in the Biathlon World Team Challenge in Germany.
Despite the rifles being totally safe, the course will emphasise safety, and the equipment will be used as if they are real rifles with live ammunition.
The Roller Skiing
Half the course will be on roller skis, in the skating technique. Our roller skis are made by leading manufacturers, who also supply them to the top biathlon teams of the world. All biathletes train on rollerskis in the Summer, and many race either in rollerski or Summer biathlon (roller skiing plus shooting) races in the Summer months. We also provide the boots, poles and padding, but we recommend you bring your own gloves.
No previous experience of either skiing or shooting is required. All you need to have is a reasonable standard of fitness and balance. We will normally split the groups based on roller ski experience, so if you have roller skied before you will have a slightly more challenging ski session. We have some more stable roller skis if you do not have great balance.
The beginners' day will cover the following -
- Safety of the rifle;
- Rifle familiarisation;
- Rules of the Range - what to do on a shooting range;
- Position & Sighting - marksmanship principles;
- Live practice;
- Skating rollerskiing;
- Basic technique for beginners;
- Advanced technique, and a focus on hillwork for more experienced skiers (Redbridge has some excellent hills)
There will be a mix of roller skiing and shooting. Everyone will attend an introduction at 09.45, then we will split into roller skiing and shooting groups.
The Level 2 course will include a re-cap of the skills covered in the beginners' course, and will go on to develop skills. It is a good progression if you have done the beginners' course or if you have experience of biathlon on snow. Martin now has harnesses for the rifles, so areas covered will include taking the rifle on and off, and transitioning from rollerskis into shooting on the range.
Redbridge Cycle Circuit is situated on the outskirts of London, near the bottom of the M11. It has 3k of excellent tarmac, with both flat and hilly sections, and is our favourite rollerski venue. We will have access to a meeting room, and the range will be set up outside, in close proximity to the tracks. There's more about the circuit here.
Dorney Lake is a 2000m international rowing venue, surrounded by 15km of beautifully smooth, mainly flat tarmac tracks. It hosted the rowing and flat water canoeing events at the 2012 Olympics. It is situated off J7 of the M4. We also run rollerski courses here once or twice monthly between August and April. You can find out more about Dorney Lake here.
The Sport in the UK
Biathlon is a tiny sport in the UK. There are only about a dozen biathletes training year round at 'club' or elite level, mostly from the military. But in addition there are several hundred Army biathletes who train and race at a recreational level during the Winter months. The Army has a long history of biathlon, and it is considered excellent training in many different areas useful for soldiering - marksmanship, fitness, leadership, teamwork, planning. The RAF also has a biathlon team which does good summer training.
In recent years a growing number of civilian biathletes have emerged, including club member Holly Rees-Lay, who was British Individual Ladies Champion in 2019. And two of our young Team Dorney skiers took part in an IBU youth camp and races in Sweden in March 2019. Until recently, GB's top male biathlete was Scott Dixon of the Cairngorm club in Scotland. GB's 21st century success in cross-country skiing has come exclusively from non-military developments, and we believe there is great potential for further civilian success in biathlon.
Please get in touch if you have any questions, either email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3026 5195.
See also -
British Biathlon Union - governing body for biathlon
Laser Biathlon UK - running + shoothing biathlon competitions
Glenmore Lodge biathlon courses with Mike Dixon
British Biathlon Club - firing training in Scotland / N. Ireland
Biathlon World, website of the IBU, free streaming of biathlon races
Dorney rollerski courses
Leeds rollerski course
Redbridge rollerski courses
Team Dorney and Redbridge