Students vie for snowfield hotshot glory at Cardrona

By Peter Thornton

Students from around New Zealand will converge on the Snow Farm in the Cardrona Valley this weekend for the secondary schools biathlon and cross-country skiing championship.
Students from around New Zealand will converge on the Snow Farm in the Cardrona Valley this weekend for the secondary schools biathlon and cross-country skiing championship.

About 100 school students from around New Zealand will converge on the Snow Farm in the Cardrona Valley, near Wanaka, this weekend for the secondary schools biathlon and cross-country skiing championships.

We caught up with Jo Lynch, the general manager at the Snow Farm, and Phil Thomson, the president of the Wanaka Biathlon Club, to discover what makes the event special.

Lynch, 36, taught snowboarding for 14 years and ran the snowboard school at Cardrona for several years. She set up a ski and snowboards school at Snow Park last year.

Thomson, who has a background in target shooting, jet boat racing and rugby, created many of the Snow Farm tracks and maintained the Cardrona Ski Field road for many years.

This is the third year for the championship with bragging rights on the line for the unique snow sports.

What is that makes the biathlon and cross-country champs a special event?
JL: It is special because it is the coming together of the schools that have visited Snow Farm during the season, they get to come back and see how their skills stack up.

PT: Biathlon combines shooting with cross-country skiing. The shooting brings uncertainty to the result as each target miss increases the distance the athlete needs to ski. The leaders can suddenly find themselves having to play catch-up with all the pressures that the extra effort places on subsequent shooting.

For the uninitiated, what makes the sports a challenge?
JL: Cross-country skiing is very accessible, anyone can try it. It's simple and fun and you can learn very quickly. Biathlon is complex and challenging, firstly due to the firearms aspect and secondly the high level of skill involved. An excellent stepping stone is target shooting and cross-country ski training, then joining of these two sports.

PT: The challenge is to move from the major physical challenge of cross-country skiing to the zen-like calm needed for shooting. A lot of training goes into lowering your heart rate and shooting between breaths. World Cup athletes take 22-23 seconds to complete their five shots at each shooting and there are usually two of four shootings depending on the race type. The shooting alternates between prone and standing. Standing is harder for the athletes. Licence holders (16-year-olds) ski with rifles on their backs.

What advice do you offer to newcomers to cross-country skiing or biathlon?
JL: Snow Farm makes cross-country skiing accessible. It is inexpensive and easy to learn. The resort is set amongst spectacular scenery which means you can learn something, get fit, be social in a stunning mountain environment. It is a very special place.

PT: Take yourself to a Target Shooting NZ range wherever you are. Let them know you want to learn to target shoot and complete six sessions at least before you come to the Snow Farm. Like us, they have rifles and ammunition you can use. Let Biathlon New Zealand know of your interest and then come to the Snow Farm and learn to cross-country ski from their instructors. While you are learning join the club and attend one of the club sessions at the range.

We make no apology for the subsequent addiction.

The club has rifles and ammunition and shooting coaches but if you are serious you will need to buy your own rifle which can cost in the region of $5000. They are precision instruments and need to be fitted to you. Children are best left to use the club equipment until they complete growing and all members are expected to have firearms licences once they are 16.

For more information visit: www.snowfarmnz.com

- NZ Herald

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