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Cloquet sends three to Junior National Championships

Despite a bad winter for practice and competition, three Cloquet ski jumpers are headed to Alaska next week to compete in the 2024 ski jumping and Nordic combined Junior National Championships.

Isaiah Langer, 14, Simon Langer, 12, and Joel Linden, 14, all qualified to compete in Nordic combined in the 16-and-younger-age group, a sport that combines ski jumping and Nordic skiing.

The competition in Anchorage Feb. 27 to March 2 will be Isaiah's second Junior Nationals. Last year's event was actually held in Coleraine, which has a 70-meter jump (Cloquet's largest jump is 40 meters).

Simon and Joel skied as "fore jumpers" last year, testing the hill first, but neither competed.

Growing up with easy access to the ski jumps at Pine Valley - one of two locations outside of the Twin Cities with active jumps - has been huge for their development, but this winter was different.

They got about two weeks' worth of practice at home.

"It was pretty bareboned," said Nathan Langer, Isaiah and Simon's dad and also a jumping coach, along with Ken Ripp. "There was grass and sticks sticking up in the landing. It was safe, but not good for the skis."

Instead, they made dozens of trips to Coleraine - the other Greater Minnesota city with ski jumps - to train. And instead of competing in nearly 10 competitions around the Midwest region, they traveled to only four.

The trio agree that "flying" is a huge part of the appeal of jumping, but there's more.

"The challenge and the uniqueness of it," Isaiah said. "And I've grown up with it. I've been doing it since I was 7."

Simon likes meeting people from all over the country, including Alaska.

"It's an extreme sport," said Joel.


Surprisingly - especially for folks who recall "the agony of defeat" ski jumping crash on ABC's Wide World of Sports - ski jumping is one of the safer winter sports, at least according to an examination of injuries per 100 athletes in various Winter Olympic sports during the 2010 and 2014 Olympics offered by The Guardian newspaper.

According to that chart, ski jumping falls just below curling and just above cross country skiing in terms of injury risk. The most dangerous? Snowboarding. Slopestyle snowboarding took first for most injuries, followed by cross snowboarding. Freestyle skiing with aerials took third.

The boys aren't surprised.

"You just go in iced tracks," said Joel, describing the inrun the jumpers zoom down before they jump.

"You go in a straight line, you're not doing tricks or anything. You just jump," Simon said.

Joel said jumpers learn how to crash safely.

"If you fall on the hills when you're little, you're not gonna get hurt because they're so small," he said. "And when you get to these bigger jumps, you know how to crash safely."

It's all about not tensing up and not fighting it, Isaiah said.

What was the least dangerous?

Nordic combined.

"That just happens to be what we do," Joel said.

Hometown support

The Cloquet Ski Club remains one of the largest ski clubs in the country, with 60 kids jumping and close to 150 signed up for cross country skiing at Pine Valley. That's due in part to the club's ongoing commitment to keeping skiing affordable: kids usually pay $50-$75 a year for club membership and equipment that they take home for the season. There are clubs that cost thousands of dollars to belong, such as Steamboat Springs in Colorado, Nathan said.

"Of course, they have all seasons and they're not parent-led," he said. "They are all professionals doing the hill."

The local club is also helping Simon, Isaiah and Joel pay their way to Alaska, along with other donations.

The Langer family - including mom and younger sister Frances, also a jumper - spend much of their year at Pine Valley, between cross country skiing, jumping, mountain biking and cross country running. The kids have all been jumping since they were little. Joel said they got involved in the club after his mom saw something in the newspaper.

Most parents seem to choose cross country skiing, but the ski jumps have a way of calling certain kids to greater adventure.

After waxing and waning over the years, the ski club has lots of members and a very strong group of parents. Isaiah is one of the oldest jumpers, so look for that strength to continue.

Although some kids and families cycle through, others never quite leave. Former athletes and parents like Ken Ripp, Pat Marciniak and Jon Waugh weave a consistent thread through the history of the ski club. All that experience adds up.

"These kids wouldn't be skiing or jumping at this level if it wasn't for Dr. Ripp being so generous with his time and supporting them, coaching and even borrowing equipment," Nathan said.

It is a big family, with supporters and other ski champions dating back to the 1960s when the huge steel jumps were first erected at Pine Valley. On Wednesday night, a few of the club regulars gathered at the chalet to wax skis together.

"This place is a gem," Nathan said.

Even in a winter when the hills are brown and green instead of sparkling white.