What is a biathlon — and are you ready to give it a try?


Are you a marksman? Do you know how to cross-country ski?  Are you looking for a challenge to add speed and excitement to both sports?

If you answered yes, then a biathlon may be the answer for you.

A biathlon combines Nordic-style skiing with precision shooting. Starting out as a hunting method in Europe over 4,000 years ago, biathlons evolved into a military training technique and are still used to build soldiers’ cardiovascular endurance and focus. Biathlons, called military patrols, became part of the 1924 Olympics. After being dropped post-World War II, the sport returned to the 1960 Olympics with women’s biathlon events added in 1992. Biathlons are gaining followers worldwide, as video streaming enables people of all ages to watch exciting, fast-paced competitions and learn about the biathlon rifle and sport as a whole. Interested? Here’s what you need to know.

Basics of biathlon

A biathlon is a timed race of short ski loops interspersed with target shooting. Events have two or four shooting rounds, half in prone position, the other half standing. During each shooting round with a biathlon rifle, skiers have five shots to hit five small targets 50 meters away. For every target missed, penalties are added. The skier with the fastest time wins.

Biathlons have five types of events with different rules.

  • Individual – In this 20-kilometer race for men, or 15-kilometer for women, you’ll shoot four times, first prone, then standing, prone, and standing for a total of 20 shots. Each missed shot adds one minute to your time. Competitors start at intervals.
  • Sprints — This 10-kilometer race for men (7.5 kilometer for women) involves two shooting events, one prone and one standing for 10 total shots. For each miss, you’ll ski a penalty loop of 150 meters before continuing. Biathletes start in intervals.
  • Pursuits – Start times and contenders (the top 60) are determined in a previous race, usually a sprint. In 12.5 kilometers for men and 10 kilometers for women, four shoots occur (in order, two prone, two standing) with a missed shot requiring a 150-meter penalty loop.
  • Mass Starts – For this 15-kilometer event (12.5 kilometers for women), all biathletes start at the same time and first to finish wins. You’ll have four rounds of shooting (two prone, two standing) and a 150-meter penalty loop for each missed shot. At World Cups, these events are usually held with the top 30 athletes.
  • Relays – Four-member teams each ski 7.5 kilometers (men) or 6 kilometers (women) with two shooting rounds; one prone, one standing. You have eight bullets to use for every five targets, but the last three bullets must be single-loaded manually. You’ll ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each miss. After completing your leg, touch the next team member to change over.

Biathlon equipment

  • Biathlon Rifle – a .22 caliber with attached magazine, non-optic sights, straight-pull-bolt action, made of lightweight stock but weighing a minimum of 7.7 pounds.
  • Ammunition – .22 caliber, five-round magazines, loaded after arrival at the shooting mat.
  • Rifle Harness – to carry your rifle when skiing.
  • Skis and poles – biathlon skis are shorter and more narrow than cross-country skis.
  • Apparel – a Lycra suit for freedom of movement and warmth, goggles that can be easily moved when shooting, and an arm sling/firing cuff to add stability when shooting.


  • Cross-country skiing – weight training, sprints, and endurance runs.
  • Shooting – practice with an elevated heart rate and make sure you can load, set up and shoot with precision.

Are you ready to take on a biathlon? Talk to our team at Sporting Systems about getting the right biathlon rifle.


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