She is 18 years old and toed up for her first international biathlon start on Thursday, with her six pound Anschütz rifle on her back, in a foreign country beneath the Austrian-Slovenian Alps.
Boisean Aurora Cramer graduated from Timberline High School last May after spending two years with the Bogus Basin Nordic Team (BBNT) and learning biathlon in June 2020.
For the last six months she has trained with the post grad Nordic program in Sun Valley. She’s pursuing her dream to ski faster and shoot with the best in the world.
Cramer flew to Europe last week as a U.S. world junior team member, one of 10 biathletes, age 21 and younger, selected after late December trials run by the U.S. Biathlon Association. In those Utah races, she had the fastest women’s skate times in every event, and good enough shooting to notch first, second and third place results.
In Pokljuka, Slovenia, on Thursday Cramer finished 36th out of a field of 73 competitors in the IBU (International Biathlon Union) junior women’s 7.5 km sprint with two shooting stages. Hanna-Michele Hermann of Germany took the win. Though she missed three targets, Cramer had the top U.S. women’s finish, while her teammates Margaret “Lexie” Madigan (Truckee, California) and Cheresa Bouley (Zimmer, Minnesota) placed 42nd and 49th, respectively.
FIRST IBU JUNIOR INTERNATIONAL RACE EXPERIENCE A CHALLENGE
“The atmosphere here is completely different than American Biathlon. So many people and languages, it’s so different to be in an environment where I know nothing about any of the girls around me,” Cramer said after this first foreign event. “It is also really different to not be a big fish in a small pond anymore, and instead I’m fighting for a position in the top half.”
Cramer had a fall before an uphill section on the course during Thursday’s sprint, requiring her to fix her rifle during the event, cleaning snow off its sights.
“Before the start, I was pretty nervous,” she said. “First international competition, so there were procedures and pre/post-race tasks I had to figure out on my own — timing chips, bib turn in, spare round removal, without being able to understand most of what anyone around me is saying. On the course, I felt pretty bad.”
CRAMER’S BIATHLON JOURNEY
“I’m super proud of her making the youth worlds team as that was a big goal for her this year and she’s worked really hard on her skiing,” says Aurora’s father, Jeff Cramer, of Boise. “As a youth to be named to the U.S. Junior Biathlon team to compete in Europe for a couple weeks is really Special.”
Cramer and his wife, Cheryl Cramer, gave their daughter her first rifle as an early graduation gift last year. They have seen Aurora move from years of club soccer to the sport of cross country ski racing and then jump into biathlon in June 2020, as she finished her junior high school year.
As 2021 ended, from December 27-31, at Utah’s Soldier Hollow 2002 Olympic venue, Cramer skied and shot well enough to qualify for the current Junior IBU Cup this week and for the Junior Open European Championships next week, both in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
Her goal mainly had been to make the national 2022 IBU Youth World Championship team for top IBU junior/youth competitors that will take place in Soldier Hollow, Utah, from Feb. 23-March 2. Cramer qualified for this world U.S. youth team, along with her BBNT teammate Molly Maybach, a 15 year-old North Junior High ninth grader.
BIATHLON IN BOISE, HOW DOES THAT WORK?
Both young Boise competitors have the same local shooting coach, long time biathlete Eric Reynolds. After a career where he competed for the U.S Army and the National Guard both in Utah and Idaho, Reynolds became a smokejumper for the BLM in Boise.
He retired as the NIFC Base Manger, Head of Smokejumpers, in 2009. While working fire, during the eighties he taught alpine skiing and coached for the initial BBNT program up at Bogus Basin, taking interested kids out to shoot with loaned rifles if they were curious about biathlon.
Reynolds coached Joe Jensen, Boise’s first young biathlete and also the very first BBNT member when the junior team launched in 1989. (Jensen remains a very competitive Nordic master skier scoring many regional Nordic podiums, along with his wife, Jessica Jensen.) Reynolds mentored other young athletes, including two-time Olympian Sara Studebaker and fellow teammate Lindsay Burt when both girls got hooked on biathlon as eighth graders at North Junior High in the early 2000s.
“She came out in June 2020, and actually had only been on the Nordic team one year,” recalls Reynolds about Aurora Cramer’s first year. “So I didn’t know her yet. So the first time I met her was on the range. Molly Maybach invited her. Out at Blacks Creek Range, we shoot there. We are the only youth program they have now.”
The first year of COVID-19 pandemic posed serious problems for all skiers and biathletes trying to compete regionally and nationally. Last year, Reynolds found then novice Cramer to be a “natural shot,” and he saw how determined she was. “She was so hard on herself, and I was afraid she’d quit. So at nationals last year at West Yellowstone, I told her, ‘every time you see me on a lap you have to smile, that’s all you have to do.’ So, now when ever she sees me on course, she smiles!”
The cross country ski history at Bogus Basin now is deep, with Reynolds a key figure who has worked with young skiers for over 30 years. He notes, “We don’t have a regulation shooting and ski biathlon range in this state anymore, but Bogus has a good thing going. Wait until you see what’s around the corner, it builds on itself.”
With no official biathlon range in Idaho, Aurora Cramer adds, “Leaning all the moves on the range is a challenge. What you call mat time, the approach there, to stop and swing your gun off your back and hit targets. Yes, with the lack of a biathlon venue here, I and others do a lot of a dry firing, in the house or go out to a range just to shoot. Being able to put the skiing and shooting together is pretty venue specific.”
Cramer’s next step of the journey comes in a sprint event in the multi-day IBU junior cup on Saturday. She’ll be wearing bib 24 in a field of 81 women.