NewsBiathlon at 9500' – Brian Olsen Reports From Chile

FasterSkier FasterSkierAugust 26, 2008

We arrived in Chile yesterday after a long trip from Vermont. Chile is awesome. There's snow. There are huge mountains. We're underneath Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, and the highest mountain outside of Asia at 22,841 feet, according to Wikipedia. It's actually in Argentina, which is a testament to how close we are to the border. Every day, the mountain pass fills with semi-trucks carrying goods between the two countries. They must stop at the border station, so there's a lot of traffic on the dozen or so massive switchbacks.

Today, I skied for the first time since June. My last ski was at 9500 feet in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. I had no idea that I'd ever race that high! That ski I actually used supplemental oxygen. I wish I had that here! No, actually, the strange thing is I feel decent here. I've taken it easy for sure, but my heart rate hasn't been too erratic. When I shoot on the 12-point biathlon range, it definitely takes some more time to recover.

Tomorrow, we have our first race, a 20-kilometer individual race. The course is pretty flat, though there are a few stop-in-your-tracks uphills that I'm not sure I'll have the energy to jump skate at 9500 feet with a rifle on my back. On Wednesday, we have a 15-kilometer freestyle cross race. Our third race is Friday. It harkens back to the old military biathlon races. It's called a patrol race, where four of us ski together and we shoot one time. The kicker is that only three of us shoot; the highest ranked on the team doesn't shoot, but instead orders each of the other athletes to shoot. And the three of us only shoot one target, one squeeze of the trigger, hopefully, in the prone position. (We have three bullets to hit that one target if need be…) And it's 25 kilometers long. 25 kilometers for shooting 3 targets altogether. You can see why it didn't make it into the new era of made-for-television biathlon!

In Chile, the National Guard Biathlon Team is hosted by the Chilean Mountain Warfare School. The peculiar thing about racing at military competitions as a soldier is that there is often much more pomp surrounding the competitions than a European Cup or even World Cup, for examples. Our hosts are in uniform and often our conversations turn to shared military values and experiences that transcend borders. The purpose of our program is actually to improve relations with foreign militaries. We've been told by deploying troops, for example, that they were able to clear the Italian-managed airport in Afghanistan much quicker because one of their soldiers had attended a military race in Italy. Since I'm a specialist (a low enlisted rank), it's interesting to be rubbing elbows with foreign colonels.

A week living and racing at 9500 feet isn't the best idea for the long-term training, but I saw it as an opportunity to see a new country and ski around underneath some really awesome mountains. Transitioning into the fall, waiting for snow, is when I tend to struggle a bit with motivation. Sometimes all it takes is a week at 30 deg South to fill up the tank that will get you to November.


The final gnarly switchbacks we drove up in a bus.


Trails are a bit canted, but you can't complain about the view!


The team after our welcoming reception (en espanol).


The principal of the Mountain Warfare School (en espanol) during our meet, greet, pray, and drink party.

Brian Olsen, 24, lives in Heber City, Utah, and competes for the Minnesota Army National Guard. He is a 2006 U.S. Olympian in biathlon and graduated in 2007 from The University of Vermont. He's sponsored by Madshus skis and boots. Check out his website at www.always-forward.com .

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