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Parents Question Safety of Biathlon Event For Kids

U.S. Army
Flickr - Creative Commons

For years the organization that trains young winter sports athletes in Aspen has been holding a traditional European event called biathlon. This year questions are being raised about the sport, because it involves shooting guns.

A snow-covered baseball field near the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club offices has been transformed into the biathlon course. The event traces its roots to ancient European hunting practices, and it has been an Olympic sport since 1960. Participants combine cross country skiing with rifle marksmanship as they follow a course, stop, shoot, and continue. In AVSC’s version, kids shoot air rifles at paper targets. Kids from 4th through 12th grades participate, if they want to. An alternate activity is offered.

This year, parents like Tim Johnson complained.

"I didn’t bring my kids to AVSC to learn about guns."

Johnson pulled his kids out of the biathlon program. He says, especially now, guns and kids should not mix.

"This is the kids’ first introduction to a gun, any young kid is going to be in awe, especially boys, of a gun, and so the question is are we really being responsible by introducing them to something that fires even a pellet during the biathlon?"

Johnson approached administrators at the youth ski club and the nearby school about his concerns. Given the recent violence in places like Connecticut, Johnson says the event should have been shelved this year.

"I think that at the very least, it’s insensitive to what happened in Newtown. I can tell you right now, if this was in Newtown, there would be no biathlon event."

After Johnson and other parents complained, AVSC brought a police officer to the practices. The kids are also taught gun safety. The club defends holding biathlons, saying its good exercise for the kids and it introduces them to a different kind of Nordic sport. So, for now the event will go on.

The biathlon has been happening in Aspen for at least two decades. Whether it will continue in the future is yet to be determined. The issues raised by the parents led Executive Director Mark Cole to rethink the event entirely.

"I feel like it’s our responsibility to the parents and athletes that we serve, to examine this question now that it’s been brought up. We can’t rely simply on the fact that we’ve always done it, so we’ll take a look at this aspect of the program."

When the season ends, he says the organization will look at whether the activity should be held in the coming years and if so, what ages should participate.

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