It is the rare and probably Canadian person who grew up near a luge track or a curling sheet. Though they become temporarily high profile when the Winter Olympics roll around, many winter sports are practiced only in very specific places by very specialized athletes. That makes fully appreciating the achievements that will be showcased at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, far more difficult than, say, understanding how exceptional Hussain Bolt is on the track. In order to gauge a competitor's mastery of a sport, it helps to have tried your hand at it.
But you can't just nip out to the local ski jump. If you want to try Winter Olympics sports, you'll have to either visit the few facilities around the country that offer tutorials for beginners or fly to Sochi and try to sneak into the Olympic Park. And we don't recommend the latter. Not surprisingly, it's probably easier to get to one of the following places to take part in the Winter Olympic sports you've never tried.
Perhaps the strangest of the Winter Olympic sports, biathlon marries Nordic ski racing with riflery. The sport has been part of the Olympics since 1960, but dates back to 18th-century Scandinavia, where people hunted on skis. "The idea is to ski fast and shoot straight," says John Heilig, the manager of Whistler, British Columbia's Nordic Sport at the Whistler Olympic Park, the most developed biathlon program in North America.
A Discover Biathlon class lasts two hours and includes instruction, skate-ski equipment rental, biathlon rifle, and three rounds of ammunition. Classes are held every Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. from mid-December to mid-March, and every day during the holiday season. The first hour covers skate-ski technique and the use of 22-caliber Russian-made rifles.
"Most people can hit the target without too much trouble," says Heilig. "Where it gets interesting is when they try to hit the target after the exertion of skiing."
Unlike the Olympics, where athletes shoot two targets prone and two targets standing, newcomers at the Whistler Olympic Park shoot all four targets prone due to the sheer difficulty of shooting while standing. The class has a ratio of five participants to one instructor, and all instructors are certified ski instructors, introductory-level coaches, and have possession and acquisition licenses to own and use firearms.
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