PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Athletes from 32 countries enjoyed the natural assets of Aroostook County Tuesday and Wednesday as they took practice runs in preparation of Thursday’s start of the next leg of the International Biathlon World Cup.

About 275 biathletes arrived Monday at the Northern Maine Regional Airport for the eighth of nine stops in the Biathlon World Cup, a popular international sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting. Foreign camera crews also have arrived for the competitions, which typically draw more than 60 million European television viewers.

The teams were greeted at the airport by a contingent of local officials and community members and by an assortment of flags of each represented country. The Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee also offered each biathlete a packet with maps of local trails and some granola bars.

“There was strong competition to be at another venue, so we’re happy Presque Isle was chosen,” said Kim Smith, a grant writer with the city who is active with the downtown group.

Because of the mild winter and average snow depths of under a foot in The County, event organizers recently had some 10,000 yards of snow made and trucked to the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle as a precaution. But about 6 inches of snow fell throughout the day Tuesday as the athletes took practice runs.

Wednesday brought mild air and partly-sunny skies for the skiers to continue exploring the rolling, curving trails. But the next few days are expected to be frigid for both competitors and spectators.

A high of 19 degrees is expected Thursday for the men’s and women’s sprints, followed by two days of highs in the single digits — and the possibility of a 0 degree high on Sunday, the last day of events with the women’s relay. However, winter winds combined with those freezing temperatures are expected to make it feel much colder over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

“These will easily be the coldest wind chills we have seen so far the season,” Todd Foisy, science and operations officer at the NWS Caribou station, said Wednesday. The wind chill Friday through Sunday will make it feel like between 5 and 20 degrees below zero during the day, he said.

Among the leading athletes going into the competition this week, after races in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, are Martin Fourcade of France and Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic.

U.S. skiers, who may also be able to ski in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, include Clare Egan of Cape Elizabeth, Lowell Bailey of New York, Susan Dunklee of Vermont and Sean Doherty of New Hampshire. Maddie Phaneuf, an upstate New York native who has trained in Fort Kent, also will be skiing.

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