September 21, 2021

FAQs for Parents

Biathlon is a very complex sport and as a parent of an aspiring biathlete you will have a steep learning curve.  We’ll try to provide some of the information here that might be useful to you. One of the best ways to learn is to be at the range and ask questions of the other parents, biathletes and coaches.  Much of the activity of a biathlon program centres around the range, so it is a good place to learn. Note that biathlon follows the Long Term Athlete Development program – click here for an excellent explanation of this.

What every Telemark biathlon parent should know…


Q. Please tell me how biathlon works.

A. Check out this link for detailed information.


Q. Where am I “allowed” to be at the range?

A. Make sure you read the Telemark Biathlon Range Safety Policy, the Telemark Biathlon Range Diagram, the Athlete Safety Agreement and the Athlete and Parent/Guardian Agreement. During practices, you need to stay well behind the firing line (usually stay behind the gun racks and the tables when the range is open).

Q. How do I tell if the range is “open”?

A. There is a flagpole at the range with two coloured flags.  If the green flag is raised, the range is closed (it is a safe situation).  If the red flag is raised, the range is open for firing (“red means dead” as the saying goes, so don’t go down range).  The Range Safety Supervisor will always shout out “The Range is open” or “The Range is closed” when raising or lowering a flag.

Q. Why don’t you allow athletes and parents onto the concrete pad of the target line to help get the range ready or put away the ropes, etc.?

A. There is some lead dust present on the target line as the rifles shoot lead projectiles.  The lead disintegrates into fine dust powder upon hitting the metal targets and can be found on the target mechanism, target supports, and concrete pad.  Only designated individuals are allowed in this area as part of our lead mitigation strategy.

Q. Bullets have lead in them?  Is there anything else I should know?

A. Yes, bullets are made from a casing (the brass part that is filled with gunpowder) and a lead projectile (the grey part).  If you handle the bullets, even loading them into clips, you may get some lead on your fingers even though the bullets are coated with a wax or grease.  It’s pretty minimal, but regardless it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after being at the range and before eating any food.  Lead can enter the body either through respiration (breathing in lead dust) or ingestion (eating food that has contacted the lead on your fingers).  Proper hygiene is a must and will protect you from any harmful aspect of lead.


Q. Do I stick around during lessons or can I leave my child and go for a ski?

A. You should stick around – we need help and you need to learn how biathlon works.  During a busy Bears program, we need to have parents assist loading clips (i.e. putting bullets into the rifle 5-shot magazines) – it isn’t hard and we’ll teach you how to do it.

Q. If the practice time is starting at 8:30 am, when should I get there?

A. The coach will let you know.  If it is the first program of the day, there are set up activities that need to occur that you can help with, so getting there early is always a good idea. If it is the last program of the day, stick around after practice to help put things away.  Remember, the coaches are volunteers and need lots of help to make the programs run.

Q. How do I find out about practice times?

A. It is all on this website under the Calendar menu.  If you sign up for email updates, then you will get an email if there are changes but emails only go out once a day – you should get in the habit of checking the website before you head up to the range in case there are changes.

Q. I’ve registered my child in the Bears program.  Should I sign up for any other program?

A. Bears should also sign up for ski lessons at the appropriate level as the Bears program doesn’t provide much ski training.  Most Bears are taking or have completed the Jack Rabbit level 4 or the Junior Development program.  Contact Telemark Nordic Club for information about these programs.

Q. Coach told the athletes to do a combo – what is that?

A.  Combo’s are similar to race but they are not always done at race pace. They can be done with either two bouts of shooting or four and can be long combos or short. Distance, pace and number of bouts will vary depending on the focus of the exercise. Basically, a combo simulates the biathlon procedure combining the shooting and the skiing together….combo=combination.

Q. How to I keep warm at the range when helping out?

A. Well, you know how to keep warm in the winter, right? The main thing is to keep your hands warm.  For the Bears, parents always help by loading bullets into rifle magazines (clips).  That means taking off your gloves for a few minutes fairly frequently throughout the practice.  Some parents like to use Hot Shots or other hand warmers to help those cold fingers warm up again after loading clips. Dress warmer than if you are going for a ski – you will be standing around for a hour and a half with no shelter.

Q. How do I help keep my biathlete warm during practices?

A. The main complaint from the biathletes are cold feet, followed by cold hands.  Having layered gloves can help with the fingers (wear a thin glove under a slightly larger glove allows them to keep a glove on while shooting by removing the thicker glove (can’t manage shooting with thick, bulky gloves), or for little ones they can sometimes use hand warmers like Hot Shots.  If the ski boots are too tight, cold feet will result so make sure ski boots fit with proper socks.  Wearing a toque is essential and neck buffs are also essential – heads and necks are places where much body heat can be lost quickly.  Talk to the coaches and other parents to get more advice.  The best thing is to stay really active – standing around during practice results in athletes getting cold.


Q. What about ski equipment?

A. Check out this link for detailed information.

Q. Do I have to wax the skis or does the coach do that?

A. You need to look after your skis, although at competitions we usually have our own techs wax the team’s skis (read volunteer parents!).  Follow this link for waxing details for skate skis.

Q. OK, tell me about the rifles.  Where do I get one?

A. Whoa, hold on there.  If you are starting off in a Bears program, you can rent a biathlon rifle for a very reasonable cost from the club.  You want to make sure your child is really interested in the sport before you invest in a biathlon rifle.  After a couple of years of renting, then you might want to lay out the big bucks and purchase a biathlon rifle.

Q. So if I want to purchase a rifle, how does it work?

A. It’s pretty easy.  First you need your Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) – see below. Then you need to find a rifle.  If buying new, there are only a few places in Canada that carry these rifles – the coaches can point you in the right direction. Most of our athletes purchase an Izhmash rifle to start with – it is a reliable, reasonably priced Russian rifle (runs about $2000).  For the really seriously competitive athlete who is competing at the national level, they usually purchase the very best rifle, an Anschutz rifle (runs about $4500).  The good news is that these rifles seem to hold their value and sell very quickly for nearly the original purchase price if well maintained.  Used rifles seem to sell within a few days of being advertised.

Q. Tell me about the PAL

A. We usually try to line up a weekend course so you can successfully complete the requirements and the exam to get your PAL.  Then you submit your application along with whatever money Ottawa wants and a few weeks later you’ll get your PAL. Then you are allowed to both purchase and transport the rifle.  You must carry your PAL with you whenever you are transporting the rifle.

Q. Do I have to clean the rifle?

A. Yes and we have a document that tells you all you need to know… and more…  follow this link.

Q. Do biathletes only skate ski or do they classic ski too?

A. In any biathlon event (provincial, national, international), only skate skis are used.  For Telemark Biathlon lessons, all athletes will be on skate skis.  However, biathletes will usually train on both techniques as classic ski and skate ski technique complement each other and together build better core strength, balance and stamina.


Q. How do I find out about upcoming races?

A. It is all on this website under the Calendar menu.  We also post information about upcoming races and registration deadlines, plus your coach will keep you informed.

Q. What are the ages for racing?

A. Follow this link for detailed information.

Q. Could you describe a typical biathlon race weekend?

A. Sure – follow this link.

Q. What is the Zone of Silence all about?

A. Coaches CANNOT say anything to the athlete while the athlete is on the range during the race (there are markers showing where the zone starts and ends). This is a stringent rule and avoids disrupting or confusing any of the athletes who are shooting.  If you are a spectator, you can cheer as loudly as you like to encourage the athletes as long as you are not in the coaching area on the range.

Q. What happens if the athlete gets to the range but all the lanes are taken?

A. If all shooting lanes are full when the athlete enters the range, the rifle runner must yell out “alibi” and will need to record the elapsed time until a lane is free (course officials will record the official time, but the rifle runner should record it as well in case an error is made). The skier simply waits quietly until a lane becomes free (good chance to get breathing under control again). This time will be deducted from the skier’s total time after the race, so no issue. This situation is likely to occur, so be ready for it!

Q. What is a rifle runner?

A. For Midgets, Juveniles and Junior Boy/Girls, an individual from our team is designated for each athlete to be a “rifle runner”.  This person needs to have a PAL in order to perform this function.  Their job is to place the biathlete’s rifle (and rifle rest for Midgets/Juveniles) on the mat for the biathlete as they enter the range, then retrieve the rifle after the biathlete leaves the mat.  For Senior Boys/Girls, the rifle runner waits until the biathlete places the rifle in the rifle rack as they exit the range, and moves the rifle to the rifle rack for them at the range entrance (Senior Boys/Girls carry their rifles from the entry rack to the shooting mat, then to the exit rack; they do not ski on the course with their rifles).

Q: If the race weekend is a two-day event, do I have to enter both days or can I just do one?

A: You can enter either both days or just one. Note that for Biathlon BC Cup races if Sunday is a Pursuit or Mass Start format and you didn’t race on Saturday, you will start from the back of the pack.

Q. What is a “Supersprint”?

A. It is a ton of fun.  Each biathlete has an “unlimited” supply of bullets (well, maybe ten extra bullets per bout) that can only be loaded one by one (no clips) and must knock down all five targets before leaving the mat.  This can take quite a few shots… The race loops are really short (hence “sprint”) and the event is over very quickly. These events are really just for fun, not serious competition.

The following are terms you might hear at the Telemark Biathlon Range:

  • “alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, echo” – the 5 black circular biathlon targets, from left to right.
  • “Cease Fire!”: stop shooting and clear your rifle immediately. Anyone can give this command if they see an unsafe situation.
  • Clean: hit all five targets, so no penalty assessed.  Often accompanied by wild applause.
  • Clear Rifle: bolt open, no round in chamber, clip removed.
  • Down Range: area in front of the firing line in the direction of the targets.
  • Firing Line: area on the range with firing points from which the competitors shoot. No one goes forward of the firing line when the red flag has been raised.
  • Firing Point: numbered position on the firing line from which a competitor shoots at the correspondingly numbered target. Telemark has 14 firing points.  This is also referred to as the Firing Lane.
  • Fortner Action: type of rifle action made by Anschutz or Izhmash that operates by first pulling the bolt lever directly to the rear and then pushing it forward to load the next bullet, requiring no rotation of the bolt
  • Mats: these are the nice rubber “blankets” the athletes lie down upon to shoot from.
  • Prone : shooting from a lying down position, targets set to smaller size.
  • Range is Open!“: the red flag is raised, meaning athletes can begin shooting under the supervision of their coach
  • Range is Closed!“: the green flag is raised, meaning that no shooting is allowed on the range whatsoever; all rifles have been made safe and removed from the firing points
  • Shot Group: pattern of hits on the target.
  • Standing: shooting from a standing position, targets set to larger size.
  • Target Line: area down range where targets are set up.
  • Wind Flag: small flags made of lightweight material, placed between the firing line and target line to help the competitor determine the wind speed and direction.
  • Zeroing: process of adjusting rifle sights to produce a shot group centred on the target – this needs to be done every time at the start of the practice or prior to a race day.


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