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Venturers race on homemade snowshoes, warming up their competitive drives before the day’s biathlon race. Temperatures heat up and melt much of Camp Gorton’s snow, but the soggy weather doesn’t melt the spirits of Venturers seeking a challenge during the scheduled biathlon race. Above, Jacob Panyon, 17, a Venturer from Crew 15 in Elmira, N.Y., slides into the turn with Carolyn Noyes not far behind. Instead of skis, the teens race along the muddy course in boots. After looping the trail, the competitors must shoot for accuracy, measured with a quarter (below left). Each trail loop and each bull’s-eye earns points and, eventally, silver or gold awards.

points for each shot within a target about the size of a quarter. In the second round, the youth complete the trek again and then switch to the shotgun range, where they can earn five points for each clay they hit with a 20-gauge shotgun. Awards are earned by completion, not points. Completing one round earns silver, and two rounds earns gold. With race numbers affixed to their

year’s freezing January weather left many competitors with icy hands and near-frozen feet. Today, some of the Venturers wear T-shirts and shorts. The moderate winter air defrosts Camp Gorton’s grounds, leaving the once- snowy trails muddy and rutted with fallen limbs and exposed roots — not ideal conditions for Nordic skiing. So the event planners adjust the

rules: Competitors must complete a half-mile loop (on foot, not ski) and shoot .22-caliber rifles to earn five

shirts or shorts, the Venturers take off one by one with a race official marking their starting time. Boots sink deep into the muddy trail. And, by the end of the first loop, the competitive youth show off dirt-caked knees and backsides. Rifles crack and crews cheer for those who decide to make a second attempt at the mucky loop. Carolyn Noyes, an 18-year-old from Crew 15 in Elmira, found ankle-deep mud in some parts of the trail. “The hills are really challenging, even without the skis!” But that doesn’t stop her from heading out for a second round. She’s not alone in accepting this challenge, either. Fourteen youth complete the second event, earning a gold award.

Sure, a true biathlon involves rigor-

ous Nordic skiing. But that’s a (rather important) detail no one seems to notice. The youth leader of the event, 19-year-old Chelsea Wahlig, council VOA president, explains, “No one seems to care that we’re not competing with the skis. It was great to ski a little this morning, but it would have made for a long race,” she laughs. You never know what the weather is going to throw at you, she says — “You’ve got to be prepared for everything, right?” Even Griffin shares that the day

wasn’t about the race itself. “It’s about challenge by choice. That’s what Venturers like. You give them a choice to challenge themselves and do better than they did last time. It’s just fun.” The teens’ smiles indicate that they

will keep coming back for more — no matter what Mother Nature brings. ¿

GRETCHEN SPARLING is Scouting magazine’s associate editor.

Check out to learn more about the 2014 Venture Biathlon Challenge at Camp Gorton in Dundee, N.Y., about two hours southwest of Syracuse, N.Y.


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