The Hay River Ski Club hosted the first Polar Cup biathlon race on Dec. 11 and 12, drawing 14 athletes.
Five participants came from Yellowknife while nine represented Hay River.
Typically the Polar Cup every year has three races throughout the winter and the location usually swaps between the two communities.
On Saturday skiers took part in the individual race, or shooters race, where they have to ski four different loops and then shoot at a target three times. On Sunday, racers took part in a sprint race where they had to ski three loops and shoot twice.
This particular event did not include the other two races in the sport – the mass start where all competitors take part simultaneously or the relay race which is made up of teams of three skiers competing in a relay style event.
Chuck Lirette, biathlon coach, said that this year’s opening race saw a large contingent of new athletes and those hungry to train in the sport.
Most participants are between nine and 10 years old, although there are a few older ones at around 13, he said.
“We are seeing a lot of younger kids this year and it seems we are sort of into the next wave of biathletes across the North,” he said. “Often what happens is we get athletes who enter the program and they will stay and develop for a few years before they move on. Then you the next wave come in.
“Right now we have a new wave of biathletes here in Hay River and over the weekend we saw quite a few of them competing in their very first race.”
The conditions between Saturday and Sunday varied greatly as the first day had warmer temperatures but a heavy snowfall, which made it difficult for athletes and their coaches.
“We had a lot of situations where snow was getting into the sights on the rifles and as a result there were a lot of athletes and coaches assisting to clear the snow out of the site so that they could see the targets to shoot,” Lirette said.
By Sunday’s sprint races, the situation was much different as temperatures dropped drastically.
In biathlon, there is a cut-off temperature of minus 20 C or minus 23 C with windchill, where athletes will not proceed with competition.
“So the challenge Sunday was not so much the snow but the temperatures and making sure that the kids were layered up and had more clothes on and were staying warm,” he said.
“After minus 20 C, that tends to be pretty cold to be holding a rifle and laying on a mat to do the shooting.”
Lirette gave special recognition to Jaxon Coombs, who was the top gun over the weekend an who hit 15 of 15 targets.
Another four athletes hit all 10 of their shots during Sunday’s competition.
Marie Eve Raymond, a visiting coach from Yellowknife agreed the weekend had its challenges due to weather but that Hay River was a very welcoming host.
“Overall it was fantastic weekend – the weather was a bit trickier especially for some of our new athletes,” she said.
“On Saturday we had almost white out conditions with huge fluffy snowflakes, that can make it quite difficult for athletes to see through their sights and even targets.”
She said most of the five athletes she brought to the competition had only been able to practice three times this season because of cold weather.
“This weekend’s race was a a learning race for most Hay River and Yellowknife athletes and we are definitely looking forward to the next race weekend,” she added.
Dec. 11 – Individual race
Junior Boys Nikolas Hawkins, 42:38.2; Junior Girls – Leah McShane, 49:49.6; Midget boys, Jaxin Coombs, 18:18.9, Davin Swallow 40:37.5; Midget girls Adele Russell 34:49.2; Midget Novice Ski – Max Olesinski, 23:42.4; Sophia Touesnard, 25:35.7; Juvenile Novice Ski Boys – Toryn Wheler, 20:46.3; Kaleb Major, 21:32.2; Francis Cook, 24:24.6; Juvenile Novice Ski girls – Kate McShane, 20:57.2; Junior Notice Ski – Millie Hunt, 22:27.1; Iga Oleskinska, 36:05.0.
Dec. 12 – Sprint Race
Juvenile Boys – Kason Coombs, 4+2  and 19:32.6; Junior girls – Leah McShane, 5+5  and 32:23.0; Junior Boys- Nikolas Hawkins, 5+4  and 27:17.1; Junior Novice Ski – Millie Hunt, 0+0  and 17:48.7; Iga Olesinska, 3+3  and 31:51.3+14:02.6; Midget novice ski – Sophia Touesnard, 0+2  and 16:22.6; Max Olesinski , 3+5  and 17:22.3+59.7. Juvenile Boys Novice Ski -Toryn Wheler,, 2+2  and 10:45.0; Francis Cook, 0+0  and 13:03.9+2:18.9; Kaleb Major, 4+3  and 14:18.9+3:33.9. Midget Boys – Jaxin Coombs, 0+0  and 14:40.4; Davin Swallow, 2+1  and 32:47.6+18:07.2. Midget girls – Adele Russell, 0+0  and 26:55.5. Juvenile Girls Novice Ski – Kate McShane, 0+1  and 10:44.4.