Ready, Aim, Ski

David Bergart ’99 is the nation’s best in his sport. Best in all of North America. But when he walks down the street in Jackson, Wyo., well, nobody really notices. Which is fine with the easy-going Bergart. “When I compete in Europe, I’m the underdog American,” he smiles.

Bergart’s sport is archery-biathlon, a combination of archery and freestyle Nordic skiing. As Bergart’s father once said, it’s a “kinder, gentler” version of the biathlon, which combines skiing and rifle marksmanship. Regardless of the variant, Europeans dominate.

Competing since he was a teenager, Bergart would practice archery in his Bates dorm room (locking his door first). As a senior, he won the U.S. Ski-Archery Championship.

He then headed west to Salt Lake City. He joined a wildfire crew, rappelling into fire zones from helicopters 180 feet in the air. He fought the 2001 Green Knoll fire — “a mini-war” — in Jackson and never left, getting jobs as Nordic coach of the Jackson Ski Club and at a group home for teenagers.

In 2004 Bergart raised enough money — “nickel and diming my friends and family,” he admits — to race full time on the Archery-Biathlon World Cup Tour. Racing at Premanon, France; Mittewald, Germany; Forni Avoltri, Italy, and in the championships at Poklijuka, Slovenia, Bergart was his own wax coach, his own race coach, and the one figuring the logistics. He finished 15th overall, his best season yet.

Archery-biathlon is a “yin-yang sport,” Bergart says. “You’re physically all out in the skiing part, then you’ve got to relax for the archery.” Competitors typically ski several 2.5-kilometer loops, stopping at a range to shoot four arrows. Penalty laps are assessed for missing a target.

When skiing the loop, Bergart thinks about technique; at the range he clears his mind. “Sometimes I sing a song,” he says. “If I think too much about the mechanics of archery, I don’t do as well.”

The crowds, which can number 40,000 in Europe, mass at the range. “If you miss, the whole crowd goes ‘Ohhhh…,’” Bergart says. In 2004, Bergart’s strength — archery — let him down. After one competition, a French newspaper noted that “if [Bergart] could have hit the side of a barn, he would have medaled.”

With sponsorship from acquaintances (such as Lavern Gaynor and the Norris Foundation) and corporations (arrow-maker Easton), Bergart heads back to Europe for World Cup events this winter (he’s among three Batesies engaged in international skiing, joining Nordic skiers Justin Freeman ’98 and David Chamberlain ’98, members of the U.S. Ski Team). Based in Mittenwald, he’s train with a few Russian and Japanese skiers.

The sport’s creative tension, between fast motion and poised concentration, appeals to Bergart, but the urge to achieve equilibrium affects his whole life. “It’s been meaningful,” he notes, to put his Bates psychology degree to work in Jackson with young adults. It complements his athletic pursuits.

“I like balance in everything I do,” he says. “I like being good in two things rather than best in just one.”