Editor’s Note: After a weekend trip to Jericho, Vt., from Aug. 10-11, FS decided it might be interesting to provide some background on one of the most prolific biathlon sites in North America and clarify how to gain access to the National Guard’s facility.
JERICHO, Vt. – Just a hop, skip and a jump off interstate 89, the Ethan Allen Firing Range sits tucked away high upon West Hill Road – and a lot of locals couldn’t tell you what it looks like. You see, what’s widely recognized as one of the best biathlon gems in the country (and North America) is also a bit exclusive and intimidating from the outset.
Owned and operated by the Vermont National Guard, the 11,000-acre site mainly caters to the military. If you’re lucky enough to grace the grounds of Camp Ethan Allen, even if it’s just to and from the range, chances are you’ll come head to head with a humvee or some reserves in action. If you stay out of their way and have the go-ahead to use the range, chances are you shouldn’t run into any problems – and this is what makes Jericho so cool.
In early August, about 105 athletes came out for the North American Biathlon Rollerski Championships hosted by the Ethan Allen Biathlon Club (EABC) and organized by US Biathlon (USBA).
According to USBA director of athlete development Piotr Bednarski, that was a pretty huge turnout for rollerski races. In fact, it might’ve been the biggest field in about 20 years of the event’s existence.
Every other year, the North American Biathlon Rollerski Championships float between Jericho and Canmore, broadening the scope beyond nationals. When they’re not hosting the championships, the sites swap what’s known as the North American Cup – and in Jericho, the turnout is typically good (60 to 70 athletes).
“It’s actually probably the best roller loop on the planet,” Bednarski said. “All the national team guys, they’ve gone to Ruhpolding and Oberhof [Germany] and all over the world, and this is really just a great place to ski.”
The approximately 5.5-kilometer rollerski loop got a major upgrade in May when the Vermont National Guard spent $300,000 dollars on repaving. According to Maj. Christopher Ruggerio, biathlon coordinator at the National Guard, the project wasn’t an absolute must, but it was important in keeping Jericho valuable to biathletes.
“Prior to initiation of this project, the course was by no means unusable, but did have a number of unwanted cracks and heaves that were becoming a safety concern to athletes,” Ruggerio wrote in an email. “Our Range is one of the premier venues in the Nation. According to various coaches and athletes from multiple organizations, our roller ski trail system is likely the ‘best in the world’ at this time.”
EABC President John Madigan explained in an email that the range was “probably the best in the country and comparable to other countries” when it was built several decades ago.
“Biathlon in Europe has grown tremendously since then and the stadiums in Germany and other countries now attract 30,000 or more spectators to World Cup races,” he wrote. “It will be a long time before we ever see that here, but these paved trails are as good as anything in Europe and as close to real skiing as you can get in the summer.”
“It’s got the vertical plus it skis like skiing,” Bednarski explained.
That’s partly why Biathlon Canada High Performance Director Chris Lindsay considers it almost like a second home – albeit in America – in contrast to their base in Canmore, Alberta. As he drove up the winding road to Jericho last month, Lindsay said he passed signs still standing after Tropical Storm Irene flooded the region two years ago. Their words were an eerie reminder of what Canmore experienced in June – unprecedented rainfall, devastating floods, evacuations, and destruction.
The signs read “Vermont strong,” and Lindsay saw similarities to those posted in Canmore. “We have those, too,” he said.
But long before the flooding thousands of miles away in Canmore, these races in Jericho were a priority and will become more so in the coming years. For the Americans, they were a sort of prequalifier for the Olympics: do well there and at two more rollerski trials in Utah, one could earn a ticket to Europe to strive for World Cup starts. For the Canadians, it was less about Olympic qualification and more about the competition.
“We are very supportive of the idea of getting back to having co-competitive opportunities for the two major North American teams on a regular basis and during the training season so that there’s an opportunity to learn from each other and there’s also an opportunity to measure off each other,” Lindsay said.
Because of the size of biathlon in Canada and the U.S., both programs can’t just rely on internal or domestic competition, he added. To measure success, they need to be pinned against one another.
“Getting back to having this as a major event within our training season is a priority for the next quadrennial,” he said. “Having over a hundred people on the start list, this is pretty significant and it’s a great opportunity.”
Bednarski, who organized the event remotely from Minneapolis, said he was ever impressed with the Canadians’ showing.
“I think they’ve made it a national-team requirement basically, which is great,” he said. “It elevates everybody. … Anybody on the U.S. or Canadian team that has a shot at making the Olympics is here. There’s twenty athletes who are going to go, and they’re all here.”
For the low cost of a couple dollars per day, athletes stayed in the barracks for as long as two weeks.
“It’s like the army,” Bednarski said. “It’s really fun. Everyone’s together, there’s no TV, no internet, everyone’s just hanging out and playing games and Frisbee and whatever.”
Women’s pursuit champion Rosanna Crawford, prequalified to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, explained in an email that she only spent two nights in the barracks after training in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“I actually slept pretty good, but the showers are really gross!” she wrote. “They could really use some new shower curtains! Two nights was more than enough for my liking! The food was good though, they had hired a couple cooks to come in for the week and they were amazing and really nice people!”
Wondering what it takes to gain access? Madigan explained that one must be associated with a club or organization that leases rights to use the range (Craftsbury and Mansfield Nordic do as well), and the leaders of those organizations must have safety training at the base.
“We always welcome people to join us during a scheduled practice, try some shooting or check out the trails,” he said.
There are three more races in the fall biathlon series (Sept. 29, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3) and a cyclocross biathlon race open to the public on Oct. 26.