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Ski athletes compete on national stage

Like so many sporting events last spring, the 2020 USA Nordic Junior Championships were canceled at the last minute due to the spread of Covid-19 across the country.

This year, three high-flying Cloquet athletes ended their winter sports season in Colorado, competing at the 2021 USA Nordic Junior Championships last month.

Cloquet High School sophomores Charlotte Ripp and Karl Thompson, both age 16, traveled to Steamboat Springs the first week of March for junior nationals, after earning enough points at competitions throughout the Central Division to qualify. Cloquet graduate Woody Waugh also jumped and raced in what was his farewell competition, as the college sophomore will age out of the junior nationals this year.

All three teens competed in special jumping and Nordic combined, a sport that combines ski jumping with cross country (or Nordic) skiing, in Colorado.

Competing in the U20 age group, Thompson took fourth place individually in the Nordic combined competition. Waugh and and Thompson placed third in the U20 Team Sprint race.

"It was my first junior nationals and I was competing in U20, so I'm pretty happy with fourth place," Thompson said.

Thompson placed 10th in the special jumping while Waugh took 12th.

Ripp placed fourth individually in the U20 women's Nordic combined competition and second in a team event for Nordic combined when she teamed up with Adeline Swanson from St. Paul, who normally competes only as a special jumper.

"I'm the only Nordic combined [athlete] for women in the Midwest, so I just asked Adeline to do it with me," she said.

Ripp is at the forefront of women competing in Nordic combined. It's not an Olympic sport for women yet. As a world sport, it lags behind jumping, which allowed women to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 2014, when Charlotte was 9. Now, at 16, Ripp is part of the USA Nordic Junior National team.

"Me and some girls from Colorado were the first women's national team," she said.

>A good start

All three teens learned how to jump and ski at Cloquet's Pine Valley Park through the Cloquet Ski Club.

Ripp said Pine Valley is a great place to get into ski jumping. Both agreed they feel lucky to have grown up in one of about four or five places left in the state with active ski jumps.

"But we don't have any big hills so we can't offer U16 meets or Central qualifying meets," Thompson said.

As they've advanced in the sport, they've moved on to competition in Coleraine and the Twin Cities where there are larger jumps, as well as other ski hills in Wisconsin, Michigan and the Chicago area.

Last month marked Ripp's second time at nationals and the first time for Thompson. Of course, she did get a head start on Thompson in the world of ski jumping, since she started jumping when she was 3, versus age 10 for her teammate.

Ripp grew up in a family that lives and breathes winter sports. It started out as a fun way to spend the winter with her dad, Ken Ripp, coaching for the Cloquet Ski Club and all three Ripp kids skiing. Now Ken Ripp is also a Central Division coach, and Aidan Ripp has been competing in Nordic combined at national and international levels for several years. He's now attending college near Lake Placid, New York, and he continues to jump competitively.

Ken Ripp said he was very proud of all three Cloquet competitors at Steamboat Springs, especially when they opened up the 90-meter jump. (By comparison, the largest jump in Cloquet is the 40-meter.)

"As the week went by, the three Cloquet jumpers got better with all of them having their best jump on the last day," coach Ripp said. "We were competitive on the Nordic skis and I expect even better results next season. It was fantastic to be able to have an event with last year's competition canceled."

Ripp spent two weeks this winter at Lake Placid, staying with her brother and training with the coaches there. She struggled at Steamboat and her high school section ski meet this year because of issues with her shins, caused by skate skiing, but she is hopeful that medical attention and taking the spring off will help remedy that.

Spring is the off season for jumping and skiing, but training resumes in the summer at the bigger hills, with skiers racing and jumping on plastic.

Thompson described the surface they land on as "plastic straws all laid down flat" and watered. He doesn't love it.

"Summer jumping kind of sucks because it's hot, and if you crash it's a lot harder than snow," he said.

But expect to see both Ripp and Thompson continue with their efforts to get better at both jumping and skiing over the upcoming years, because both are ambitious. Ripp said she would like to qualify for Junior Worlds, and Thompson wants to get to the Junior Championships again and get on the podium. Not having to deal with Covid-19 fears and protocols would be nice too.

When asked if they had any other messages for Pine Knot readers, Ripp had three words: "Come try it."

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