Natasia Varieur part of fourth place biathlon relay team at Canada Winter Games

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Biathlete Natasia Varieur, who recently represented Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games, described her experience there as, in a word, amazing.

“It was really cool to meet people from other provinces and to watch all of the other sports,” she said. “The opening ceremony was amazing! Overall it was such a great experience, and all the volunteers from Red Deer worked super hard to make it great. I was so sad when it was time to go home.”

The games were held in Red Deer, Alberta, from February 15 to March 3. Varieur was one of four female skiers from Team Ontario that competed in the 3 x 6km Relay race and they placed 4th overall. She also placed 12th in the 10km Individual Female race, 16th in the 6km Sprint Female race, and 17th in the 7.5km Pursuit Female race.

“It’s a tiny bit frustrating for me because my rifle was broken so my shooting results were not what I wanted them to be. I had some disappointing results on the range, but I’m super happy with my ski speeds,” said Varieur. “I’m proud of our relay team for hanging in there with a solid result.”

Above left, Natasia Varieur at the Canada Winter Games (supplied photo). Above right, Team Ontario in the weeks before heading to the Canada Winter Games (back row from left) Troy Martel, Zach Connelly, Hannah Skelton, Natasia Varieur, Keegan Tremblay, Toby Quin, Mackenzie Turner; (front from left) Chris Skelton, Cory Lohnes, Eric Schryer, Angele Caporicci, and Michelle Smith (photo: Biathlon Ontario).

Varieur loves biathlon and hopes to increase awareness and support for her sport in Ontario, particularly after seeing the overall results of the Canada Winter Games competition. “It is clear that Ontario is one of the top biathlon provinces in Canada,” said Varieur. “The Ontario men’s and women’s teams both placed fourth in the relay event. In fact, Ontario has placed fourth in nearly every recent Canada Games relay.”

Teams from the top provinces (Alberta, Quebec, and BC) take home the majority of medals in Canadian biathlon because “these provinces have established biathlon ranges and national training centres,” said Varieur. “Ontario only has three teams in total, training out of Thunder Bay, Collingwood, and Hardwood Ski and Bike in Barrie. Collingwood and Hardwood have training ranges which are air rifle only. Thunder Bay currently trains at a local gun club, which does not have a biathlon-specific range. They are not able to ski and shoot, and must wear safety goggles, as per the club’s safety rules. Because of this, it is not a biathlon range and the conditions are less than ideal.”

Varieur’s father has worked with members of the Eagle Lake Gun Club in Sundridge to build ski trails on their range, making it the only operating biathlon range in Ontario. “Having the support of a facility like Eagle Lake has been a massive step forward for biathlon in Ontario,” said Varieur. “Creating a biathlon facility takes a lot of dedication, hard work, and man power. The members of Eagle Lake have been donating their time and resources for years now to support us.”

Other options for Ontario biathletes and coaches are not ideal, said Varieur. “They base themselves out of Chelsea, Quebec, which is the closest .22 biathlon range to me. Ontario athletes need to work hard for their training opportunities, and create their own facilities in order to get the best training possible.”

She appreciates all of the people who are working to advance the sport in Ontario.

“Biathlon in Ontario is made possible by a small group of dedicated individuals who put a huge amount of effort into giving us a chance against the more established provinces,” said Varieur. “To take us to the next level nationally, we need increased awareness of the sport. This will bring support for an official training facility, as well as getting more athletes and volunteers involved.”

Biathlon requires hours and hours of precise repetition in order to be successful. “As a biathlete, I practice the exact same movements over and over to try and perfect them. In a perfect world, every shot would happen the exact same way, right down to every tenth of a millimeter involved in squeezing the trigger,” said Varieur. “In order for this consistency to be built, it is crucial to be able to practice in the exact same conditions you race in. Unfortunately, Ontario does not have a single biathlon-specific facility.” Varieur trains at the Whistler Nordic Development Centre in Whistler, BC.

“We currently have no training facilities in the province, and I am always pushing to get more young people involved. We need more established biathlon programs in Ontario. Kids are interested in this sport, and want to try it and to get involved,” she said.

Seth Cushman, a student at Spruce Glen, tried out biathlon for the first time this year and loved it

Seth Cushman, a student at Spruce Glen, tried out biathlon for the first time this year and loved it

Getting schools involved helps, she added. Fun and educational events can raise awareness for Ontario biathlon, and help get the next generation of biathletes involved and interested.

Tawingo College recently hosted a mock biathlon event for local elementary schools, where kids get to experience cross-country skiing and using paintball guns. “I was lucky to be able to volunteer at the event and, with the help of my brother Zak, do a short demonstration for the kids to show them what a real biathlon was like. The level of interest was high, with many of the kids finding us after to take a closer look at our equipment and ask questions,” said Varieur.

Seth Cushman, a grade five student from Spruce Glen Public School, participated in the Tawingo biathlon this year for the first time. It’s also his first year cross-country skiing and he’s loving it. He said of the biathlon, “It was great to be able to ski and shoot on the course as it makes it interesting.”

“It is so important for me to get more kids involved in biathlon,” said Varieur, “and to give young people in Ontario the same opportunities to try the sport that are available in other provinces.”

Natasia and Zak Varieur gave a biathlon demonstration for local schools at Tawingo College's biathlon

Natasia and Zak Varieur gave a biathlon demonstration for local schools at Tawingo College’s biathlon (supplied)

For more information about Biathlon Ontario, visit biathlonontario.ca.

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