FIS World Cup vs. IBU Biathlon World Cup - Margie Freed

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  • By Margie Freed
FIS World Cup vs. IBU Biathlon World Cup - Margie Freed

This past ski season was an exciting 5 months of racing in which I had the unique opportunity to
compete in both FIS Cross-Country World Cup races as well as IBU Biathlon World Cup races.
I’ve had various people ask about the similarities and differences of these two types of World
Cup racing, so I thought I’d take a moment before the new training season gets into full-swing to
share some of my experience. Although I raced World Cup competitions in Sweden, Canada,
the USA, and Norway, I thought it would be easiest to compare and contrast FIS World Cup
skiing vs. IBU Biathlon World Cup skiing by focusing on Canmore, Alberta, Canada where I
raced the skiing World Cup in February and the Biathlon World Cup one month later in March.


Both events were amazing experiences, with the organizers of the two events putting on
high-quality competitions that made the athlete experience positive. Although there are many
different topics I could share, I thought I’d focus my insights in six different areas: The Venue,
The Logistics, The Weather, The Racing, The Fans, and The Food & Refreshments.



The Canmore Nordic Center is a great place for anyone involved in Nordic sport. There are ski
trails for all kinds of racing as well as an extensive network for recreational skiing; all based out
of one location. It reminds me a bit of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center but on a much, much
larger scale. The setup for both Canmore events in the newly constructed Biathlon Building was
pretty similar, with registration on the main floor, athlete refreshments a floor up, and a VIP
lounge on the rooftop. Although this new building is still a work in progress, it is a great example
of how Nordic sport is growing in popularity. Because the FIS ski races had just over 100 racers
(50 women and 60 men) while biathlon had almost 200 racers (90 women and 100 men) it was
a lot more crowded for Biathlon but it didn’t feel cramped.


All in all, the similarities in venue experience are to be expected and I’d give the set-up and
organizers of the venue a thumbs up for both events.




Logistics were similar for both events in Canmore. Teams were spread out between 3 hotels,
organizers had buses for transportation, and food was catered. Hopping on a yellow school bus
to go to a race definitely isn’t the most glamorous, but the European athletes thought it was
awesome! The yellow school buses that are ubiquitous in North America aren’t used in Europe,
and many of the visiting athletes had only seen an “official” school bus in movies. Little
experiences like this make me remember that others are having fun and experiencing new
things too. As for the food, we were served by the same catering company both times but ate in
different locations. For the cross-country races we sat at round tables in the hotel conference
rooms, usually separated by teams. For the biathlon races we were in a larger event hall sitting
at tables going all the way across the room. This promoted a little more mingling between teams
and I was able to meet quite a few biathletes from other countries as a result.



Another thing you may expect from any venue is that the racing in February will be colder than
in March. Canmore is notoriously a very cold place, but thankfully was in the teens and twenties
(or in the negative tens in Celsius) for the FIS cross country racing making it seem warm for that
time of year. It was also either slightly overcast or sunny which makes any chill feel better. For
the IBU biathlon racing the sun was out in full force - so much that the snow was slushy and
some athletes cut their uniforms into shorts! This was the perfect atmosphere for a final race series.
There was plenty of snow pack though, so the race courses had plenty of snow for the groomers to work their artistry, and the great extent of tourist trails was still open for skiing.




Racing on the World Cup is a very humbling experience. The athletes are the best in the world,
and watching how the top performers in both sports make everything look so effortless can be a
little intimidating, so I just chose not to worry about it. Even though there was a lot of excitement
and energy at the start, once I got to the start line I was able to focus on the racing.


Pre-Race: Testing skis at the two events was pretty straight-foward since there were no real
tricky snow conditions. The Team USA wax techs had my Madshus skis flying fast at both
events, although for the biathlon testing and warm-up I felt a little rushed because I need to
“zero” my rifle, which is basically making sure I understand the wind and adjust the rifle sights to
account for that. I’m still really new at this sport so it was great to have our coaches help me
through this process.


FIS Course: I can describe the Canmore FIS sprint and distance courses in one word: Brutal.
Extra long uphills, combined with quick, technical downhills was a recipe for pain and suffering.
After each race (even the sprints) my comment to my coaches and teammates was simply “I
think that is one of the most difficult races I’ve ever done!” The extra long finishing stretch
forced athletes to start their final push quite early on leading to even more exhaustion at the
end. The snow conditions were pretty ideal, and of course the competitors were strong, fast,
and powerful.



Biathlon Course: The biathlon course used different trails and although it was a challenging
course, it wasn’t as demoralizing for me as the FIS course. Because biathlon needs to have
short loops so we can return to the shooting range regularly, the uphills weren’t as long and the
finishing stretch wasn’t as lengthy. The biathlon course required the athletes to be “working” the
whole time, with no comfortable recovery stretches on downhills. One fairly unique aspect of the
course was that the approach to the shooting range was right after an uphill, which made the
shooting more difficult for me.



FIS: The crowd was large and loud in the stadium; and lined the long finishing stretch with
noisemakers and cheering. Although the attendance wasn’t nearly as large or raucous as the
fans in Minneapolis the following week, there were quite a few US fans so naturally there were
many ‘USA!’ cheers. This helped remind me not to slack off through the long, challenging races.
There were booths set up around the stadium for spectators to check out ski equipment and
other businesses after cheering.


Biathlon: The biathlon crowd seemed to be about the same as the FIS ski crowd in Canmore.
These fans didn’t seem to be as excited about Team USA specifically and were more focused
on a broad mix of international racers, but they still lined the areas near the stadium and range,
and you could tell they were excited to be watching the event. The biathlon fans were a little
more condensed because fans tend to flock to grandstand locations where they have prime
shooting range viewing. Around the stadium were food trucks and game activities for spectators
to pass the time between races.


Overall, the vibe at the venue was filled with excitement for both race weekends. The cross
country crowd was a little more focused on the skiing while biathlon fans seemed to be looking
for more of a ‘carnival’ event, but both were loud and fun.




As athletes, our bodies are the “machines” we use to work, and as a result we need to be
well-fueled to perform at peak performance. The FIS setup was fine with the standard water and
Gatorade available at most races, along with some snacks, so we didn’t have to worry about
dehydration or starvation. However, the Biathlon World Cup had a fantastic food set-up for
athletes that was astronomically better and truly appreciated by the athletes. In particular, the
beverage selection was first class. During the biathlon races and practices we had access to a
full satellite coffee shop bar so of course I had fresh lattes before and after each session. There
was also a bar setup with various sodas, wine, and beer. This seems to be the norm on the IBU
World Cup circuit which is a great perk for the athletes!



If you ask me which event was better, I’ll answer the same way a parent might if you ask them
which of their two children they love more.... ‘I love them both equally but in different ways!’.
The two events were exciting, fun, and a challenge with unique aspects to both. Of course they
were also quite similar due to each being elite level, Nordic sports. I’m happy I had the unusual
and exciting opportunity to compete in these two events in Canmore this season. It is an
amazing place thanks to the fans, volunteers, organizers, and its natural beauty. Going back as
a tourist to ski more of the trail network is the next thing I want to do there, and if you haven’t
had a chance to ski there yet, now is a perfect time to start planning a trip to experience the
skiing first-hand!