Snow-filled summer for Aussies at British Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Championships

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Jessica Kuk (author)

Topic(s): Biathlon, Snow Sports

Australian Defence Force Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Association members who participated in Exercise RUCKSACK in Germany and Austria during January and February 2020. (photo: FOTO-KAESBERG)
Australian Defence Force Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Association members who participated in Exercise RUCKSACK in Germany and Austria during January and February 2020.

Ten members of the Australian Defence Force Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Association have recently returned from competing in the annual Army and British Nordic Biathlon Championships, Exercise RUCKSACK 2020.

The competition was held over two weeks in January and February in southern Germany and Austria.

The ADF Team was invited by the British Army to compete alongside approximately 300 British Defence Force personnel and civilians, including a handful of Olympic and World Cup athletes, gaining exposure to the challenging International Biathlon Union and World Cup courses.

The competition involved a range of races including cross country, biathlon sprint and relay.

Touted as the most cardiovascular intensive sport, Nordic biathlon demands a high level of fitness to cover distance and altitude, interspersed with controlled sport shooting in prone and standing positions.

Lieutenant Commander Garry Lewis said he appreciated the dynamic nature of the sport.

“Placings can change due to how competitors shoot.

“One person can be winning and then shoots poorly and is automatically relegated to the back of the field behind to better shooters.

“For this reason the sport is exciting to compete in and watch,” Lieutenant Commander Lewis said.

An established sport in Europe, Nordic biathlon has been gaining an increasing following in Australia, especially within the Defence Force.

“Biathlon really is the most relatable sport to military service: you have to compete in arduous, sometimes inhospitable conditions, you utilise marksmanship principles and weapons handling skills, you are required to keep pushing through your own limitations to get the job done,” Royal Australian Air Force Sergeant Karl Penny said.

“It requires a great deal of composure and mental focus.”

Lieutenant Commander Heather Bundy, a relatively newcomer to the sport, said she appreciated the inclusiveness and relevance of the sport.

“The sport provides a challenging yet highly supportive environment to push your limits, rise to the challenge and simply test your boundaries.

“The sport provides multiple ways to improve no matter what your skill level, fitness level or age.

“There are no age barriers in this sport of Nordic skiing (cross-country skiing) and biathlon. You only need the will to succeed and the will to try,” she said.

The competition was of an exceptionally high calibre, forcing the Australian team to dig deep in the sub zero temperatures.

The team undertook two weeks of acclimatisation and training in Europe prior to the competition, including 30 and 42km cross country races.

The good morale and sportsmanship of the Australian team was welcomed by the competition.

“Each race was a challenge, mentally and physically, however it helped that you could always pick out an Australian accent cheering you on amongst the crowd of British onlookers, it definitely helps you push up some of the hills!” Sergeant Penny said.

The competition culminated in the military patrol race, where a four man team skied a total of 30km, carrying 10kg packs and rifles, with checkpoints and activities.

It is perhaps in this race where the highest level of resilience and cooperation is required - qualities essential to military life.

“One of the highlights was to witness Midshipman Hamish Roberts give his skis on the last lap of the patrol race to one of our teammates who had a broken ski,” Navy Lieutenant Sven Howorth said.

“Hamish did not hesitate to then pick up the broken skis and sprint alongside us on the track as we came to the finish line,” he said. 

The experience gained in the remarkable Bavarian Alps was invaluable and the team looks forward to further developing their skills back at Mt Hotham, Victoria, later this year during the ADF Interservice Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Competition, also known as Exercise COOLSHOT.

Exercise COOLSHOT 2020 will be held from 1-14 August.

The team expresses their gratitude to all those who supported the trip, especially to the ADF Sports Council.

For more information:

ADF Nordic Biathlon - Defence members should visit the ADF Sports page on the DRN and click on ‘Nordic Biathlon’.

​Navy - visit the Navy Nordic Skiing and Biathlon website at

Army - Defence members should visit the VCDF collab environment on the DRN and search for the Army Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Association (ANSA) website. 

Air Force - Defence members should visit the RAAF website on the DRN and search for the Air Force Nordic Skiing and Biathlon Association (AFNBA) website.

Or contact Lieutenant Sven Howorth at: