Steep hills, sharp corners and super-fast snow conditions made the weekend B.C. Cup Biathlon No. 2 races a stiff test of courage for the 88 racers who gathered at Otway Nordic Centre for two days of racing.
Bobby Kreitz and Logan Sherba were glad they didn't need a road map to find their way to the medal podium.
The Caledonia Nordic Ski Club members have skied the Race Maze trails behind the biathlon stadium enough times they could practically manoeuvre the course in their sleep. Entered in the hotly-contested youth men's (17 and 18-year-old) category, they both had their misses on the shooting range in Sunday's Home Hardware in 7.5-kilometre individual race, but nobody had what it took to get past them.
Kreitz, 17, won in 44:18, missing eight of 20 shots on the range, while Sherba, 17, was second in 45;00, after six misses. UNBC physics major Jarod Algra, 18, a member of the West Coast Nordics Ski Club of Whistler, rounded out the medal podium with a third-place finish in 47:18 with 10 missed targets. Colton MacDougall (44:07, five misses) and Mark Hartley (50:2, nine misses), both of Caledonia, were fourth and fifth respectively.
"That category is extremely close and on any given day it really can be anyone of them (winning)," said Caledonia club coach Allie Dickson. "Jarod had a little trouble with his shooting (Sunday) and it is a shooter's race. This is a really technical course, and really fast for everyone. We had some pretty bad crashes this weekend."
Kreitz fell on his last lap Sunday but was far enough ahead of the rest of the field to maintain his lead. The 84 racers started at 30-second intervals and that meant the faster skiers had to find their way around the slower traffic.
"It was a shorter course than last year at Canada Winter Games but still just as painful on the skis," said Kreitz. "Today we were dodging everybody else and its interesting. You try to communicate with everyone where you're coming from, left or right.
"One of the officials said I slipped on a stick and the ski just caught going downhill into a big tight U-turn. It was a bit of scare but I was fine and the rifle was fine. It's been awhile since I've won a B.C. Cup at home. Both days I kind of struggled on the shooting. Most of the youth guys (at the B.C. Cup level) train together at Caledonia so it's fun to put a race in and see where we're all at."
For each miss in the individual race, 45 seconds of penalty time was added. In the sprint, each miss meant skiing one penalty loop. Sherba was wishing his aim had been true on Saturday, when he hit just five of 10 targets, but he made up for it with a solid performance on the range on Sunday, hitting 14 of 20.
"Saturday was one of my worst races and today I was fairly consistent and my skiing was not too bad," said Sherba. "The corners were pretty sugary today so by the third or fourth lap, step-turning around those corners was getting pretty hard and it was hard to turn. I had a few close calls but most of it was good."
Algra, 18, captured the youth men's PWC sprint race on Saturday. His winning time of 24:33 included three penalty loops for missed targets in the two shooting rounds. Kreitz was second (25:35, six misses) and Sherba placed third (26:41, five misses), followed by fourth-place Hartley (27:03, five misses) and MacDougall (27:24, four misses).
Algra, the inaugural winner of the Caledonia club's scholarship, skied for Team BC at the Canada Games along with Kreitz, helping B.C. finish fourth in the relay a year ago. Algra is hoping to go to the World University Games next year in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
In other B.C. Cup results, Tekarra Banser of Kelowna returned to the course where she helped the B.C. women's relay team win gold at 2015 Canada Winter Games and the Telemark Ski Club member from Kelowna won both B.C. Cup youth women's races at Otway.
Banser, 17, posted a seven-minute 25-second margin of victory with just two misses in four rounds in the 6 km sprint Saturday, topping second-place Sara McBride of Nechako Nordics of Vanderhoof. Banser was uncontested Sunday in the individual race, winning in 38:17 with three misses.
"That was a good race, I was able to push myself and that was good," said Banser. "It was nice and fast, the snow was good."
Banser is preparing for the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, Feb. 11-21.
"I've never been to Europe and I'm so excited, it's definitely going to be a learning experience," said Banser.
In other Caledonia medal results, Liam Connon won bronze in the junior boys 4.5 km sprint and was second in the 6 km individual race. Artemis Douglas placed third in the 2.0 km midget individual race. Damian Georgyev won the juvenile 2.5 km sprint Saturday, while clubmates Quinn Neil and Erik Hoffman were second and third respectively, followed by fourth-place Nicholas Veeken and fifth-place Elise Clare, both of Caledonia. Nicholas Veeken finished third in Sunday's juvenile individual race.
The next stop for the B.C. Cup championships at Whistler, Feb. 13-14. The top-16 B.C. biathletes qualify for the national championship in Valcartier Que. in March.
Complete B.C. Cup results are posted on the Caledonia club website, caledonianordic.com.
At the world youth/junior biathlon championships Sunday in Romania, Caledonia club member Emily Dickson improved six positions to finish 35th. She started the 7.5 km race 41st. Dickson shot clean her first two rounds, had three misses her third round and two misses in her fourth. She finished 5;48.1 off the winning pace of 27:15.2 set by Arina Pantova of Kazakhstan.
Megan Bankes of Calgary was the top Canadian in 19th place. Nadia Moser of Whitehorse was 24th and India McIasaac of Calgary was 60th.
Dickson is entered in today's 3 X 6 km relay and will remain in Europe to race for Canada later this month in Prague, Czech Republic.