Scott Perras’s first biathlon World Cup result back in 2007 might have seemed tough at the time: in Kontiolahti, Finland, he finished 104th in the 20 k individual.
But nine seasons later, he has made five trips to World Championships, become an Olympian and hit the top 10 on the World Cup. He was a key part of a Canadian relay team which reached the World Cup flower ceremony in 2014, finishing sixth, and then finished a best-ever seventh at the Olympics a few weeks later.
After all of that, the 32 year old from Saskatechewan is hanging up his rifle.
“I didn’t realize how long my career was until I quit,” Perras said with a laugh in a recent phone interview. “For me, the high point was being part of the team for so long, and having really great teammates along the way. From Robin Clegg and J.P. Le Guellec at my first World Cup, to guys like Macx Davies and Christian Gow in Rupholding [this year] — just a lot of having fun, tom-foolery. Putting off being an adult for as long as I could.”
Perras can now no longer say he’s putting off being an adult. He got married this summer, helped his wife set up her business, and is now moving into a full-time, non-athlete job himself: Perras will be the new high-performance coach for the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) cross-country ski team.
It’s a transition away from biathlon, and yet one day last week found him in a familiar place with the men and women he had called teammates until just a few weeks earlier.
“Yesterday I was at Sunshine Meadows with the biathlon team because they have technique camp,” Perras explained last Wednesday. “They bring in Mats Larson from Sweden, and I wanted to get some refreshers for that for my team going forward.”
The next day, he was back in Canmore leading a workout for AWCA’s under-21 men’s team.
“There has always been an invisible barrier maybe between cross-country and biathlon and I hope to maybe bridge it a bit, and help everybody work together a little bit easier,” Perras explained. “I also have good relationships with all the top biathletes and biathlon coaches and am also developing them in cross-country. I can go to anyone and ask for help anytime I need it.”
“There has always been an invisible barrier maybe between cross-country and biathlon and I hope to maybe bridge it a bit.” — Scott Perras
The 2015/2016 season didn’t go as Perras had hoped, and he found himself off the World Cup team. In between racing at the second-tier IBU Cup, he also jumped into some ski races, including finishing second in a NorAm 20 k and 12th in the American Birkebeiner 51 k, the biggest international ski race in North America.
So besides drawing on his former team staff and teammates when he needs to learn about coaching, he is hoping to bring the biathlon and cross-country communities closer together more generally. In Canmore, the national teams as well as local teams often train on the same trails anyway.
“I’ve noticed everyone has a really clear picture in their mind of what they want to do, what they want to achieve, and how they are going to achieve it,” Perras said. “Sometimes as coaches we end up being more tied to that plan than to being flexible and seeing the advantages of maybe being more inclusive.”
Perras wasn’t certain that he would retire after this season, and he also wasn’t certain that he wanted to go into coaching. But it was one of two possible futures he saw for himself, and when AWCA opened up an assistant coaching position it was a good fit.
He saw AWCA providing a good transition for him from racing to coaching: while he’s on the ground leading workouts, head coach Chris Jeffries is the main brain behind the operation. The team has its training plans and physiological goals worked out already.
“It’s great knowing that all of the really big picture things, we have people with a lot of experience writing that,” he said. “That stuff definitely interests me, but it’s nice learning about it and applying all at the same time with the insurance of having these well educated well experienced people behind us.”
Spending more time on the IBU Cup this season, Perras also got to know some of the younger biathlon athletes. He observed what made them tick, and also the ways in which they weren’t so different from veteran athletes like himself. It’s an experience he’ll take into his new coaching job.
“I knew some of them well, because like I said we are all on the range every day, but getting to know them better and seeing their levels of dedication, seeing the enthusiasm they have- it was nice,” he said. “It is really important as a coach to keep an eye on what is an important or a big result for someone.”
For him, those results weren’t coming anymore.
“When you are in your thirties the goal is to be there when things happen, and if you are not then it’s time to move on,” he said. “That is just how it is. It is a high performance sport and I wasn’t competing at my best. I think I could have raced another year and had a better year than last year, but at the same time like I said my life was going in some really good directions and in other ways and I kind took those opportunities.”
Looking back, Perras is nothing if not thankful that he was able to train and compete full time for nearly ten years. That, he said, was living the dream.
“When I first moved up to Canmore, I was at home in Regina and I was talking to my mom,” he reminisced. “We were talking about the lottery. And she said ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’
“I said ‘Oh, I’d train for biathlon. I’d train for biathlon and not work.’ So to me, for the last seven years or however long I was carded, I kind of got to live like I won the lottery. That’s pretty sweet. And it’s over now. I spent all my winnings. That is pretty special to me for sure.”
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.