I skitter sideways at every corner and battle up the rises with my skis spread out to herringbone my way up, only to slide inelegantly down the other side, powered by determination and gravity.
Astonishingly, it’s -26 out. I’m standing here with just the tiniest stirrings of genuine panic that this is possible frost nip territory and I can no longer feel one of my fingers at all. I’ve cross country skied before and always been overwarm, so this time, I’ve tried to dress for the expected cold, but with a nod towards the skiing exertion. But I’m currently standing still, on the snow, being talked through the finer points of how to handle a gun. Yes, you heard right, a GUN.
In the nature of scientific enquiry, I’m giving the sport of Biathlon a go. Given that I’m not exactly what you’d call a natural on cross country skis, and that my experience of shooting a rifle is limited to one session in a range over twenty years ago, my expectations are not high. Despite the cold, it’s hard to find fault with the setting- a broad flat valley floor at Bessans in the Haute Maurienne, surrounded by snowy peaks makes for perfect cross country conditions. I’m itching to get going, or at least I would be if I could feel my feet enough for them to itch.
As cold as I am, it’s literally only a matter of minutes before the blood starts pumping and a steady flow of warmth returns once I get going on the skis. It may be my staggering inefficiency, battling the snow at every stroke rather than gently gliding like the pros, but if it keeps me warmer I’m not complaining. I’m moving as quickly as I can around the track, as a friendly competition has been suggested, and I can’t resist a good race. The straights are fine, it’s the corners and the purpose built humps that are proving tricky. I skitter sideways at every corner and battle up the rises with my skis spread out to herringbone my way up, only to slide inelegantly down the other side, powered by determination and gravity.
Lara Dunn has been travelling since birth. She has been writing professionally about active travel around the world since 2000, and is particularly fond of places where trees, cactus or rocks outnumber people. Thankfully, there is still a long list of places to visit where this is the case. Two feet are good, two skis are great, two wheels are even better. There's always a bag packed, but almost always the wrong one.
Lara can be contacted on lara.dunn[at]btinternet.com Or follow her on Twitter at @LaraDunn
Arriving at the targets, just 20m away rather than the competition distance of 50m, it’s incredible how much impact my breathing is making. I’m breathing hard after my scramble around the ski track, and that’s making holding the gun steady a lot more challenging, even lying sprawled on the ground as I am. Remarkably, I pop down all five targets successfully and it’s time for another lap. As I dash round the loop again, I find myself wishing that there was more opportunity to keep this up at home, it’s such a great combination of fun, exercise, focus and real skill. If only we had reliable snow in the UK.
This time, I’m shooting standing up. The rifle isn’t light and keeping it steady and upright makes hitting the targets even harder than on the last lap. But again I manage to knock down all five. It occurs to me that I often seem to be good at sports that are no use at all to me in normal life. Typical.
It’s the final lap of our friendly race, and to be honest, noone really knows who is winning and cares probably even less. We’ve had a great morning doing something completely new in a beautiful setting. With skis and guns. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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