By Abbie Digel Explorebigsky.com Editor

WEST YELLOWSTONE – It’s the most challenging
sport you’ll ever do. And the most fun, says
Marc Sheppard of Altius Handcrafted Firearms in West Yellowstone.
Altius, Sheppard’s shop, is the only biathlon
specialty shop in the world. Sheppard himself is
a World Championship athlete and head of the
biathlon component of West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation.
Biathlon has been part of West Yellowstone’s
culture for about 30 years, says Dan Cantrell,
program director of WYSEF. This has included
hosting regional competitions, Olympic training
events and the 1964 Olympic trails.
This year the course received its
largest renovation yet, bringing it
up to the international standard
for competition ranges, Sheppard
said. The renovation began in the
spring 2010 and was completed
for the current winter season.
Changes include new, stable
platforms for the targets, and a
retaining wall that makes a clearly
defined place for the shooting
area. The targets were replaced
with new ones designed and built
in Belgrade. A new steel support
structure and roof system now
protects the targets from the elements.
The renovation was a combined
effort from grant donations, volunteers,
and a working in partner –
ship between WYSEF and the Forest Service.
“Our range is the newest, best and
most accessible range in the Rock –
ies,” Sheppard added.
Because the course in West is located on the
Rendezvous Ski Trails, it falls under the jurisdiction
of both WSYEF and the Forest Service. The
National Guard runs most other biathlon ranges
in North America.
Biathlon is a year-round sport that combines any
two activities. It’s most commonly known as a
combination of cross country skiing and rifle
shooting. The course in West also offers summer
biathlon, and in event last June, participants
biked or ran to the rifle range.
Anybody that’s interested in trying a new sport,
particularly somebody that has experience with
shooting, should try biathlon, Sheppard said.
“It’s a unique sport that requires two diametri –
cally opposing skill sets.”
WYSEF has already hosted two significant bi –
athlon events in December: the North American
Cup, and the National Guard biathlon program.
In mid-March, WYSEF will host the U.S. Biath –
lon Association Winter Nationals.
Currently, the range is free and open to the pub –
lic. Participants must have a .22 caliber long rifle
with standard velocity and soft lead bullets, and
must comply with biathlon safety rules.
Check in with Sheppard at his shop on 125 Madison
Ave. in West to get lined up before heading
out, at no charge. Or, join other newcomers to the
sport on Jan. 28 for a clinic hosted by Sheppard and
WYSEF in conjunction with Rendezvous Trails’
Free Ski day. Altiusguns.com (406) 646-9222