What is Biathlon?

What is biathlon?
An Olympic winter sport since 1960, which combines cross-country skiing and small-bore rifle shooting.
where did it start?
First races held in Scandinavia in 1860s
Where is NZ's biathlon centre?
Snow Farm NZ near Wanaka is the only on-snow biathlon location in New Zealand
Biathlon is an Olympic winter sport combining cross-country skiing and small-bore rifle shooting. It is both physically and mentally demanding; combining tests of speed, endurance, technique, skill and nerve. It is very popular in Europe where the spectator crowds are massive.

The sport originated in Scandinavia where cross-country skiing and hunting have been a way of life for centuries. Norwegian and Swedish skiers competed in the 19th century and, since 1960, the sport has been a feature of the Winter Olympics.

The sport is managed internationally by the  International Biathlon Union (IBU). Biathlon New Zealand (BNZ) is the national federation registered with the IBU and is also registered with the New Zealand Olympic Committee. BNZ strives to encourage and develop the sport both nationally and internationally.

Snow Farm NZ, which is approximately 40min drive from Wanaka NZ, is currently the only location in New Zealand with a biathlon facility. The combination of tough cross country ski trails and a purpose built 50 metre rifle range creates a unique biathlon setting high in the Southern Alps.

Wanaka Biathlon Club operates the Snow Farm range and also organise biathlon experiences (for novices), development programs (for enthusiasts) and training (for athletes).
'biathlon for newbies'

Understand biathlon in 12 minutes!

Watch this video from the International Biathlon Union to understand all things biathlon.

biathlon details

The rifle range

Biathlon shooting always takes place on a 50 metre range using a .22 calibre, 5-shot manual action rifle. The rifle is adapted from a target rifle, but modified with a quicker action (for rapid reloads), a magazine of 5 rounds, a carrying harness and a flip down cover to prevent snow blocking the barrel or sights.

Biathlon targets are metal plates arranged in groups of 5 for each athlete. The plates, designed to fall when hit, are either 45 mm in diameter for prone (lying on stomach) shooting or 115 mm in diameter for standing shooting.

biathlon details

The ski track

Biathlon races take place on cross country ski trails over a number of standard race distances.

The tracks are prepared to an extremely high standard using a snow grooming machine, however, they are far from flat. A typical race will have sections of track that are hard to walk up, let alone race on skis. On the downhills you try to breathe and recover, but with cross country skis being so light and fast there's little time to relax. The track's tight corners are also very challenging for such fragile and flexible equipment.

New Zealand athlete, Campbell Wright shown competing in the 2020 IBU Cup
biathlon details

Race Formats

The IBU has sanctioned certain race formats. The races vary in length and number of visits to the shooting range. In every case, there are an equal number of prone and standing range visits.  Most races have penalty loops for missed targets, the Individual race has time penalties instead.

The IBU sanctioned races are listed below.

10km Men
7.5km Women
Prone + Standing
150m penalty loop for each missed target
12.5km Men
10km Women
Prone + Stand + Prone + Stand
Athletes are started in finish order (and time) of Sprint race
20km Men
15km Women
Prone + Stand + Prone + Stand
1 min time penalty for each miss
4 x7.5km Men
4 x 5km Women
Prone + Stand
Also - a Mixed Relay exists with 2 x Men 2 x Women
Mass Start
15 km Men
12.5 km Women
Prone + Prone + Stand + Stand
Open to the top 30 only

World Cups and Olympics always consist of a number of races held over different days. Thus, a biathlon competitor has a number of chances to win or achieve their personal goals. During the 2021/2022 season there were 10 World Cups scheduled on the international circuit. There were 70 races in total (including mens and womens).

See video below for a guide to the 2021/2022 season:

If you'd like to learn more, or perhaps even try biathlon, contact Biathlon New Zealand below!

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Contact Biathlon New Zealand
Contact the team at Biathlon New Zealand if you would like to know more about the sport, its athletes or how to try it for yourself.
Contact BNZ