Note: The Biathlon at Hidden Valley Nature Center was originally scheduled for Jan. 25 but has been postponed to Feb. 8 due to the poor snow conditions (it’s that darn rain and warmer temperatures).
That’s right, you could enter a biathlon. Don’t know how to cross-country ski? That’s OK. Don’t know how to shoot a gun? No worries. Don’t own a gun or skis? They’ll lend them to you.
The Liberal Cup Biathlon will let anyone try the sport on
Sunday, Jan. 25 Feb. 8 at Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson (about an 80-minute drive from Portland). When you’re done you can sip a hot toddy around the bonfire while talking about how hard your ninth penalty lap was — or how you stopped skiing penalty laps after your third, you slacker you.
“We want to get people out doing things. There are other biathlons in Maine, but there aren’t a whole lot of places you can go and just try it — no pretense about becoming a professional athlete,”said Andy McEvoy the director of Hidden Valley Nature Center, a nonprofit forest-based learning center. “We try to put as little emphasis on times and winning as possible. It’s just a fun thing to do in the winter.”
Here’s how it works: Sign up online and pay your $30. On the day of, show up around 9 a.m. to get your loaner gear (if you need any. You can also use your own skis) and to take the mandatory safety course. The more advanced races start earlier, then the novice race starts at 11:45 a.m. You’ll ski a 1K loop (a bit more than half a mile) in the traditional shuffle style, then you lay down with a rifle and shoot at five targets. There will be a volunteer at every gun to help beginners shoot safely. For every target you miss, you’ll have to ski a short penalty lap on the frozen pond. The penalty loop is a circle of cones about the size of half a basketball court. Novices then get another 1K loop and another turn with the gun (and, probably another round of penalty laps). First one to finish wins.
So if you have good aim you could cut down your penalty laps and win this … but some people know themselves better and take a pragmatic approach. “Some people’s strategy is to bail on their shots, then head right out to the pond to do the penalty loops,” Envoy said.
If you have three other friends racing, you can clump together as a team on race day. Your four times will be averaged for your team’s score.
Novices get two laps and two rounds with the gun. More advanced skiers get three loops and three turns with the gun. There is also a skate-ski division later in the day. In all, about 175 racers are expected. People can hang out and just watch for free.
The biathlon will happen rain/shine/snow/no-snow. In previous no-snow years, Hidden Valley Nature Center has trucked in piles of the stuff from neighbors’ driveways.
“It’s a totally unique event. It’s just a way to have fun outdoors in the winter — that’s how you get through winter here. It’s a a silly good time with a lot of good people,” McEvoy said.
During the biathlon, there will be coffee, chili and bread (made by volunteers the night before), some sort of steamy alcoholic drink (hot toddy, maybe) and — because it’s sponsored by the Liberal Cup brewpub in Hallowell — there will be beer. Although because it’s cold out, the beer is a bit less popular than you might think.