Strider Gliders Biathlon

Biathlon is a challenging and fascinating sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting. It requires both the aerobic capacity and muscle strength to be a cross-country skate skier and the delicate touch, eagle eye and quiet concentration needed to hit a small target. The sport is several hundred years old and originated in Norway as a means of training soldiers. Today it is an extremely popular sport in Europe that draws huge crowds.

In 2010, Tahoe XC’s Strider Glider Laser Biathlon program began when a grant was received from the Teichert Foundation to purchase six laser rifles. Since then it has been a successful and important part of the Strider Glider program, and remembered fondly by the kids who were lucky enough to participate. In fact, when I was the Strider Gliders Director I remember many parents saying that biathlon was their kids favorite part of Strider Gliders.

Strider Glider participants practicing with laser rifles (2024)
Strider Glider biathlon athletes circle up for instruction.

Biathletes race a lap around a course, then come in to the shooting range and attempt to hit five targets. Any misses require a short penalty lap. The combination of having to be a strong skier and also a pin-point shooter makes races quite interesting with stronger skiers sometimes dropping out of contention if they miss more shots then a slower skier.

The skiing and shooting combo requires a great deal of body and mind control. Skate skiing is one of the most aerobic athletic events out there, making your heart pound and breathing rapid. But to shoot effectively, you need to calm down and not be gasping for breath as you pull the trigger.

For the past two years, Tahoe XC has been lucky enough to have Biby Xantus directing the biathlon program. She is a former world class biathlete originally from Romania. In conjunction with Glenn Jobe, a former Olympic biathlete and long-term supporter of biathlon in the region, Xantus put together a detailed set of protocols that must be agreed to by both the students and parents and strictly followed by the students to ensure safety.

While the students are using laser rifles,“we learn the rules of biathlon safety just like we were using live ammunition,” said Xantus. “That way if they go somewhere else they know the rules and it is very safe. We teach them how to respect a rifle.”

In addition to strictly following safety protocol, Xantus also focuses on teaching the students to control their minds and bodies. I attended one of the Strider Glider biathlon classes and Xantus was emphasizing to the students that while they should ski hard, they need to start slowing down and calming their breath once they get close to the shooting range.

“I’m thrilled to have a strong team of coaches for our biathlon program led by former World Cup biathlete Biby Xantus,” said Meghan Pry, Strider Gliders Program Director. “Biby has built a solid program that emphasizes a healthy respect for the rifles in a safe and fun environment. We are proud that we are able to offer this introduction to biathlon for our most experienced skaters who are curious about the sport and ready for an added layer of responsibility.”

Biathlon Group at the end of 2024 Season