Nordic combined may be one of the more challenging sports, and two Cloquet siblings are excelling on its biggest stage. Aidan and Charlotte Ripp, son and daughter of Caroline and Ken Ripp, are taking their skiing talent to the next level.
In this sport, athletes compete in cross-country skiing and ski jumping. To find yourself on the podium in this sport, one must ski fast and jump far. The athletes begin their competitions on the towering ski jump, ranging from 60-120 meters tall, and then are given a starting spot in the following cross-country ski race based on how far they jumped and their style in the air. They are then off to the races in a 5K cross-country ski race to see who is crowned champion.
Aidan and Charlotte train with the United States' Junior National Team.
Aidan, 18, is currently in Steamboat Springs, Colo., learning from the country's top skiing coaches. After his time out West, Aidan will take his skis across the pond to train in the European country of Slovenia.
When asked if he minds all the traveling for the sport, Aidan said: "My mindset goes back and forth. I love experiencing new places and training with great competition, but I have felt burned out after a long time away to train." Consequently, Aidan says he works to find balance in his training schedule, such as going mountain biking for his day workout, rather than roller skiing every session.
Aidan is unlike some of his Junior National teammates. Many of them live in or near the Steamboat Springs area, so they do not experience the time away from home like Aidan does.
"It is really humbling to have grown up and learned about the sport in Cloquet, as we don't have much compared to what there is out west," he said.
The young star joked about how his teammates find excuses for their poor performances.
"Growing up, I never skied in a freshly made track," he said. "In Cloquet, we were always made to groom our own trail."
Aidan was introduced to skiing by the John Waugh family, and with help from Pat Marciniak and the Cloquet Ski Club, he fell in love with these sports.
"I am lucky to be where I am today, and it has much to do with Cloquet and its ski community," Aidan said.
After deciding he wanted to really focus on skiing, Aidan put in extra practice with some coaches in the area who knew more about these sports than those who got him started, including Dave Sobczak, who taught him how to compete at a high ski jumping level, and Glen Sorenson, who brought Aidan up to be the fantastic cross-country skier he is today.
Charlotte Ripp, Aidan's younger sister, also has quite a story. The 13-year-old, joined by two other girls from Steamboat Springs, were selected to be a part of the first year female Nordic combined athletes have been a part of national teams. USA Nordic recently named its first senior women's Nordic combined competitor, then again broke ground by adding the trio of girls to the Junior National squad.
"It is a pretty exciting step for the sport and I am happy to be a part of it," Charlotte said. She said she also enjoyed being brought up in the Cloquet ski community.
Sorenson, who coached Aidan and Charlotte, said the siblings are "part of a unique ski community here in Cloquet."
"It is hard to do what they are doing without Cloquet," he said.
Lucky to be raised in a ski town is one thing, but what made these two successful, Sorenson said, is that "Aidan and Charlotte are both really coachable and have a drive to get better."
Sorenson's last year as head of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic ski team went out with a bang, as Aidan switched positions with Sorenson. Aidan coached Sorenson through his jump off Cloquet's 20-meter ski jump. After his fun ride and crash landing, Sorenson recalled how Aidan said to him: "Now you have the idea of the rush I get when I am up there."