2016 Biathlon World Cup organizers keep eye on weather and world woes with just two months to go

By Jason Parent

Aroostook County  –   Above normal temperatures in Maine and rising tensions around the globe have organizers of 2016 International Biathlon Union World Cup dusting off plans to make snow, and reviewing security as just two months remain until nearly 300 of the world’s top male and female biathletes from more than 32 countries converge on The County.

             IBU World Cup 8 will be hosted in Aroostook County by the Nordic Heritage Center at their world-class Nordic ski and biathlon venue as the next to last in a series of nine stops on the 2015-2016 international circuit, and the only stop in the United States. Teams and visitors from the participating nations are expected to arrive in Aroostook County in early February and depart the region on February 15.

             “Right now it’s all about snow and safety,” said Jane Towle, 2016 IBU Biathlon World Cup event director.  “Everyone on the organizing committee and hundreds of community volunteers are actively engaged in the final weeks of preparation for the event, but special attention is most certainly being given to unusually warm weather and worrisome world headlines that have us reviewing our plans both to make snow, and ensure the safety and security of our international visitors.”

             With recent daytime temperatures hovering 10, to as much as 20 degrees above normal, little to no measurable snow on the ground, and the forecast showing that trend continuing, a team of volunteers working on logistics for the 2016 International Biathlon Union World Cup, are reviewing what organizers did in the winter of 2011, the last time the IBU World Cup came to northern Maine and snow was scarce.

             “We did end up making snow five years ago when we last hosted the World Cup,” said Steve Towle.  “Thankfully, we received some measurable snowfall just prior to the event, but we didn’t want to take the chance.  We ended up with great racing conditions, and will do what it takes to ensure that is the case this coming February.”

             Steve Towle acknowledges there is still plenty of time and Aroostook County winter to come for an abundance of snow to blanket the landscape, trails and shooting range at the Nordic Heritage Center before the biathletes arrive in Presque Isle for the competition set forFebruary 11 through 14, 2016.  With fingers crossed and an eye on the long-range forecast, event organizers are hoping for significant and sustaining snowfall soon, if for no other reason than to keep costs for the event down.

             “We are certainly prepared to make snow if need be, but the contingency plans are costly,” said Steve Towle.  “Thankfully, County ingenuity and generosity have helped us mitigate those costs in the past, but depending on what equipment is available to us, and how much is needed, having to make snow can be a significant strain on our already tight operating budget.”

             The balance sheet for the Biathlon World Cup is especially important this time around. The February 2016 event will mark the first large-scale event hosted in The County since the Nordic Heritage Center has operated independently of direct support provided by the Maine Winter Sports Center. The operation and maintenance of the world-class, four-season sports facility, located just off the Fort Fairfield Road in Presque Isle, are supported in large-part by the Libra Foundation, as well as local businesses and organizations, other donations, club memberships and revenue generated by events, including those sanctioned by the International Biathlon Union.

             As they watch the elevated temperatures, organizers are also monitoring heightened tensions around the globe with recent terrorism-related activity in France, California and elsewhere.  Although they feel confident that security plans for the coming event, which are developed to keep both participating teams and spectators safe, are well developed, a thorough review of the plan is underway.

             “Keeping our athletes, spectators, volunteers and all who are taking part in events at the Nordic Heritage Sport Center venue and elsewhere in the community safe is priority one,” said Stephanie Beaulieu, chief of security for the 2016 IBU World Cup.  “It is always our practice to review our plans with local, state and federal authorities to ensure we are taking all measures to accomplish this.”

             Several measures, including credentialing of all volunteers, media, team members and other personnel working the event, as well as inspection of bags and backpacks of volunteers and spectators, are all planned as part of security at the Nordic Heritage Center during the event.

             Along with security, event organizers are keeping in contact with the 32 national teams set to participate in the IBU World Cup competition in northern Maine.  International happenings have impacted the participation of teams in similar events in the past, including during the last IBU-sanctioned competitions in Presque Isle.  A team from Ukraine was expected to participate in the IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships in late February/early March 2014, but rising tensions with Russia resulted in the team cancelling in the days prior to competition.

             “So far all 32 teams participating in the IBU World Cup Series appear to be coming to Presque Isle,” said Jane Towle.  “We look forward to again welcoming the world’s top athletes to The County.”

             Aside from attention focused on snow and safety, both Jane Towle and Steve Towle cite recruitment of volunteers as the other major area of focus for event organizers.  With the event fast approaching, officials are again turning to the community to help host the teams and spectators from around the world and to make certain the four days of competition go off smoothly.

             “We have always been so richly blessed by an outpouring of support from generous individuals throughout The County when we have put out the call for volunteers for past events,” said Jane Towle.  “We are already seeing a good number sign up to be a part of the excitement this time around, but could certainly use more people as the event fast approaches.  We encourage folks who have done it in the past to again join us, and those who have not to sign up and see for themselves how fun and exciting it is to be part of a large team responsible for rolling out The County ‘welcome mat’ for the world’s top athletes in Europe’s most popular winter sport!”

             The volunteer section of the event website is now open to take registrations.  Interested individuals are encouraged to visit the site: http://biathlonmaine.com and click on the “volunteers” link to get registered.  For more information on volunteer opportunities with the 2016 IBU Biathlon World Cup event coming to Aroostook County in early February, contact Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Fletcher at fletcheramauto@gmail.com.