Biathlon nationals could generate 'millions' for northern New Brunswick

‘The spinoffs are massive’ for northern communities with more than 170 athletes, including Olympians, competing in national event.

8 Olympians to compete at Canadian championships in Charlo this week

Les Aventuriers Ski Club in the northern village of Charlo, will host the 2018 Canadian Biathlon Championships this week. (Colin McPhail/CBC News)

While most New Brunswickers are grumbling about mid-March snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures, one community is more than happy to see winter extended.

Charlo, a small northern New Brunswick village situated 32 kilometres east of Campbellton, is hosting the 2018 Canadian Biathlon Championships this week at Les Aventuriers Ski Club.

The frigid weekend weather created prime grooming conditions to ready the course for the top biathletes in the country, said competition chief Marc Levesque.

Event chairperson Joseph Elias, left, and competition chief Marc Levesque are excited about welcoming 172 biathletes to Charlo this week for the 2018 nationals. (Colin McPhail/CBC News)

Biathlon mixes a cross-country ski race and target shooting. Biathletes shoot at mechanical targets in standing and prone positions, and they're dinged for each missed target with a short penalty lap or a minute added to their total time.

Of the 172 competitors heading to Charlo, eight national team members will participate on the heels of returning from the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games in South Korea, Levesque said.

More than 50 coaches and staff will be coming to the region, and more than 200 volunteers will also be on site during the six-day event. 

He said the event is likely the largest national biathlon championship in terms of athletes.

Economic boon

That means big bucks for the region, according to Joseph Elias, the event's chairperson.

"The spinoffs are massive," Elias said, listing the expected spending on hotels, food and transportation.

"We're talking millions of dollars in spinoffs and it's a big impact on people and it's a big impact on the nature of our community."

Guy Laviolette, the owner of La Source, a nearby restaurant, said the club is no stranger to hosting biathlon and cross-country events.

He said the financial benefits are unreal.

"An event like this fills all those hotels in the region," said Laviolette, who also designed the Charlo course. "It helps restaurants, like me. That helps us create work and survive."

The competition

Ten competition classes, spanning both genders and ages from 15 to 50 and over, will challenge for the podium. Each class competes in the sprint, pursuit, relay and mass or individual starts.

Athletes begin to arrive Monday, the opening ceremony is Tuesday and competition begins Wednesday morning.

More than 200 volunteers from the community will time the athletes and monitor targets, among many other tasks — quite a statement for a village of 1,300 people, Levesque said.

And they all do it with a smile, he said.

"We're friendly and we like to host people and we feel that across the whole week," he said.

So much snow

When the date was set by Biathlon Canada, the national organizing body, Elias said there was some concern there wouldn't be enough snow since the season changes during the event.

The Aventuriers Ski Club groomer has been busy preparing the course in Charlo for the national competition. (Colin McPhail/CBC News)

Those worries evaporated after northern New Brunswick was dumped with snowfall after snowfall over the past few weeks.

Instead, there might be too much snow.

Last week's nor'easter buried part of the target-shooting lanes, and Levesque said the groomer has lots of work to do in the days before the first race.

The abundance of snow is part of the reason why Charlo is an attractive location for the national championship.

Elias said the white stuff, while posing many challenges, does create economic opportunity for the region.

"We know we have a resource, which is snow," he said.