This article originally appeared in the Forres Gazette.
Biathletes who use roads around the East Grange Loft for roller-skiing have responded to claims made by residents that they are training in an unsafe manner and causing a safety hazard.
Co-ordinator for the biathlon training range at the Loft is former RAF serviceman, Gordon Seaton from Forres. He contacted the 'Gazette’ to let people know about the training rules that the athletes abide by, including a safety protocol which is issued as standard practice and clearly states that roller-skiers should be aware of, and courteous to, other road users.
Mr Seaton wants to reassure people that if there is bad practice going on, then it is against the code and he wants to hear about it, but added that the athletes do all they can to stay safe and out of the way of the general motoring public.
“They don’t want any hassle,” he said. “They just want to do their training. We go all over the area, as it is so brilliant for training. The athletes love training here.”
Mr Seaton added that roller-skiers had the same duty on the road as pedestrians and other road users to take care and be mindful of their own safety, and had the right to expect some courtesy from drivers.
“If a motorist sees a roller-skier up ahead, a gentle toot on the horn is enough to warn the athlete that there is a car coming,” he said. “They know to go into the side of the road, and to let vehicles pass if necessary. But it takes two to tango, and not every motorist is courteous; some are very aggressive and impatient. There is no point waiting till you get right up behind them and then sounding your horn in an aggressive manner.”
He added that the athletes did a lot of other general training, other than roller-skiing, to build up their stamina and strength, including cycling, gym work and other keep-fit routines, not to mention shooting, which is part of the biathlon discipline.
“We are only at East Grange about twice a week,” he said. “We go all over the place, such as Cluny Hill, Aviemore and elsewhere. We try to avoid the traffic. We don’t go out at peak times when people might be going to work or doing the school run, and are usually back in by lunchtime.”
He said that because the sport was judged on timing, training required the athletes to be timed between roller-skiing and having to shoot so many targets within a set time period. He said they took every precaution to try to stay out of people’s way, especially on the road.
“We have marshalls who erect signs to warn people that they might meet roller-skiers,” he said. “I even bought radios so that we could keep in touch and warn each other of traffic or hazards. I split the training into two groups, which go in different directions. If one group sees something on the road, such as a tractor, they let the other group know on the radio, so that they are aware of danger on the road.”
He made his comments following the most recent meeting of the Findhorn and Kinloss Community Council at which member, Gerald Verner, said he had been phoned and asked to describe an alleged incident between a local farmer who was driving a tractor and three roller-skiers whom he met head-on.
“He was apparently driving with a trailer carrying 19 tonnes of grain when he met three roller-skiers coming towards him in the road,” said Mr Verner. “It isn’t just a matter of slamming the brakes on and stopping when you are towing, that is too dangerous. Two of the roller-skiers went in the ditches, and the other one stopped with less than a few yards to spare. The farmer was very shaken up.”
Mr Verner and former member, Iain Brodie, have both brought the issue of roller-ski-ing to the table of the community council, claiming that the practice of roller-skiers using the road in a “competitive and head-on manner” was of concern to local people who feared a road accident.
In the meantime, Mr Seaton said he was very proud of the calibre of the individuals training at the Moray venue, which included the British biathlon team and Olympic competitors.
“They love coming here because it is such a good facility,” he said. “The range has been built up from nothing. It used to be a sileage shed, when East Grange was run as a farm, but now it is a fantastic biathlon facility with a licensed shooting range and other training facilities.”
Chairman of Findhorn and Kinloss Community Council, Rick Walker, told members at their last meeting that he had been contacted by residents and asked to go to the East Grange area when the roller-skiers were training on the road during a recent weekend.
“The road was not closed,” he said. “They had marshalls at either end and signs out warning people. They were very polite and courteous, and aware of the bad press. They don’t want any trouble.”
Mr Seaton repeated his belief that although it was impossible to legislate for individuals, there were two sides to every story, and that if there was any intimidation of athletes, the police could be called.