CANMORE – Biathlon Canada had enough of the drawn-out, pesky wildfire smoke situation hampering Canmore, so the team packed up and moved out of town.

Last Wednesday (Aug. 22), 10 national team biathletes and their coaches relocated to Quebec for a two-week training camp to escape the persistent gray haze filling their home base in Canmore.

Conditions became so miserable for training in Canmore that Olympian Scott Gow wore a soft blue industrial respirator mask on Aug. 18.

“I only wear it when it’s really smoky,” Gow said. “It works. If you took the mask off you can smell smoke again.”

It’s the second year in a row Gow has worn a mask while training in Canmore due to persistent wildfire smoke in the summer months.

In seven years on the national team, the Olympian said it was the first time they’ve relocated for a mini-camp due to conditions.

It was about as last minute trip planning as you could get, especially in the summer holiday season, said Biathlon Canada head coach Matthias Ahrens.

But something had to be done.

Environment Canada issued poor air quality alerts for Canmore and the rest of the Bow Valley at the beginning of August due to British Columbia wildfire smoke pushing into Alberta.

“You couldn’t see the mountains from downtown Canmore,” said Ahrens of the unwelcome smoky incursion.

Long-term relief was unforeseeable and the national team can only do so much indoor training to accommodate Olympic-calibre athletes’ routines.

“We train twice a day, six days a week, and with the smoke it just wasn’t feasible anymore,” Ahrens said.

That’s when Ahrens got on the horn and discussed the situation with Biathlon Canada’s board of directors, which supported the eastbound trip.

The biathletes, who compete in a mix of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship, are training at the Myriam Bedard Biathlon Centre, an Olympic-calibre facility about 25 kilometres outside Quebec City.

Three amateur athletes have also accompanied the team to Quebec.

Gow said training in Canmore would have been mediocre if they stayed. The 27 year old welcomed the move to Quebec where they now find themselves under blue skies.

“Especially at this time of year, our training is starting to ramp up in intensity more,” Gow said. “In my opinion, it is worth it.”

Ahrens said there was a noticeable improvement in air quality as soon as the team stepped off the plane, and the lower elevation from Alberta’s Rockies has allowed for more intense training sessions.

“The quality of training has been really good,” Ahrens said. “The training centre is providing us with all we need.”

The mini-camps’ total budget is between $32,000-$35,000, which Ahrens said is not in Biathlon Canada’s funding every year and last week’s move was an “extraordinary measure.”

Biathlon Canada is even considering the possibility of starting a contingency fund for such events in
the future.

The past couple of summers in the Bow Valley have been smoked out by fires in B.C. and last year’s Verdant fire west of Banff. The issue of fires and smoke has raised contingency fund questions, although starting one becomes a challenge due to biathlon not being a primary funded sport in Canada such as sports like basketball, hockey and rowing.

“All the athletes on the national team are based out of Canmore; it’s very expensive to move,” Ahrens said. “We definitely are managed really well when we can stay in Canmore and have all facilities there, it’s inexpensive for us, but as soon as we have to move for training camp it goes beyond what we can actually do.”

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