US Biathlon National Championships in Fort Kent are still on, for now

2 months ago

FORT KENT, Maine – While this year’s warm weather has canceled Aroostook County events like the Can-Am Crown sled dog race and moved others to different locations, like the SnowBowl, the 2024 US Biathlon National Championships are still on for late March. 

The event will be held at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center and feature participants from the United States, Canada and Norway. A sprint competition will be held on March 22, a pursuit competition is planned for March 23, and relay races are set for March 24.

Chief of Competition Carl Theriault, who is also a member of the Outdoor Center’s board of directors, said this week that it’s too early to say if the event will be canceled due to weather and that they are still moving forward.

“Believe it or not, in 25 years of hosting events, we have never canceled an event here,” he said. “And it happens all the time in other places. We’ve always just had super reliable snow, but this is the least amount of snow I’ve seen in 30 years.”

Although snow is scarce, the outdoor center has advantages over other local venues. Theriault said they have the ability to make snow in the alpine area, which they have done. The facility is also 500 feet above Fort Kent, with elevation keeping things a bit cooler, and the snow is being constantly groomed.

“It’s like asphalt out there right now,” he said. “The snow is hard because we’re grooming it all the time. So a little bit of rain and a little bit of thaw won’t hurt, but 15 days of that might.”

Event organizers, in a Feb. 29 Facebook post, wrote that they were making and stockpiling snow in case they need to cover any patches on the trails before the event. The facility is completely run by volunteers, and Theriault said about 75 volunteers will be present during the biathlon.

Theriault said there are about ten facilities in the country where national biathlons are held, and two are in Aroostook County – the Fort Kent Outdoor Center and the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle.

When the facility first opened in 1998, Theriault said it was one of only three or four in the country.

“It’s a growing sport, for sure,” he said. “Years ago, when we’d hold one of these, we’d maybe see 70 athletes.”

Now, some events are seeing over 200 participants. He said the expectation for the upcoming biathlon is between 170 and 200 athletes. But with coaches, parents, and people coming out to support the event, he said they’re expecting to see about 300 people altogether.

The event will feature participants who are as young as 12 years old, all the way up to 70 years old.

“And in the middle, you have Olympians from the US Olympic team,” he said. “So it’s kind of an interesting event. The whole age spectrum is here.”

The outdoor center hosts a plethora of events, including high school games, a Christmas event, in addition to some New England Nordic Skiing Association championships. It has hosted the US Biathlon National Championships about six or seven times in the past, with the last time being in 2016. Theriault said the gap was due to more facilities popping up in recent years.

Theriault said the facility hosts between six and seven events annually, with two being large events such as the biathlon.

Looking ahead, Theriault said it’s too early to definitively say if weather will shut down the championship. He said that while they have not seen the snow so low at this time of year, the outlook is currently positive. 

“We had two great nights of snowmaking and the forecast for new snow and cold temps are looking better for the end of this week,” he said on Sunday. “We are more optimistic by the day that the event will go ahead as planned.”

This story was updated to correct the last year the US Biathlon National Championships were held in Fort Kent was 2016 and to add new information.