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JUNIOR SPECTACULAR: Ripp is flying high

Before a ski jumper leans off the bar, before he starts the long glide down the jump, before he flies through the air, leaning out over long skis shaped like a V, a simple wish is offered.

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Aidan Ripp soars off the 40-meter jump in Cloquet last year. This winter there hasn’t been enough snow yet to jump off the 40-meter jump at Pine Valley. Photo contributed by Stu Waters

Before a ski jumper leans off the bar, before he starts the long glide down the jump, before he flies through the air, leaning out over long skis shaped like a V, a simple wish is offered.

“Have one,” fellow jumpers say.

It’s like ski jumper shorthand for “Have a good jump.”

It’s a phrase Cloquet’s Aidan Ripp, 14, hopes to be hearing a lot more of next week as he competes at the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined 2015 Junior Nationals in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

The eighth-grader found out he qualified for the 2015 Junior National Team on Valentine’s Day in Nordic Combined, a competition which involves both ski jumping and cross country (Nordic) skiing. The first part of the competition is the jump, which determines the start point for the second part of the competition: the Nordic ski race.

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“Basically people who jump really well will get a head start on the other people,” Aidan explained.

There aren’t so many places these days where jumpers can gather to learn and perfect their sport. In northern Minnesota there are only two: Cloquet and Coleraine. Aidan was lucky enough to land in one of them as a toddler when his family moved to Cloquet.

“I think I was in kindergarten or first grade when I started jumping,” Aidan said, explaining that he jumps with the Cloquet Ski Club, a volunteer-run organization that teaches youngsters how to ski jump and cross country ski at Cloquet’s Pine Valley.

Aidan’s dad Ken Ripp and Pat Marciniak joined with Jon Waugh when Aidan was in kindergarten to take over the reins of the club, as the children of previous parent volunteers were aging out of the program.

In the beginning, Aidan said he wasn’t too serious about jumping. He enjoyed it, but he also just enjoyed skiing down the hill and grabbing the tow rope for another ride to the top.

Ken Ripp said the setup (and the tow rope) at Pine Valley builds good jumpers.

“Kids can take a ton of jumps in a night on the 10-meter, the 20-meter, all that repetition really helps,” Ken said. “So when we go to Coleraine, we’re always placing.”

Coleraine is also where they head when the jumpers begin to outgrow the jumps in Cloquet, even the somewhat scary 40-meter jump, which Aidan started jumping while he was still in elementary school. There is a bigger jump there, a 70-meter, and there are more experienced coaches, along with a jumping program that travels around the Midwest to various competitions.

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Once he caught the jumping bug, Ken Ripp said Aidan would go out and jump all night.

“He was just meticulous,” he said. “He wanted to figure out how to make this work. Tons of repetitions. He was the kid who would come in at the end of the night and go ‘Why are all the treats gone?’ because he didn’t come in for a break once. I’d call him Mr. Millimeter, because he’d get just a little bit better, go a little bit farther every time. You might not notice, but by the end of the night, he’d be at the bottom of the hill.”

Once Aidan moved past the 20-meter jump, it was time for others to take over the coaching, his dad said. Most of them are former jumpers, including John Denny and David Sobzcak, among others.

And then there are his fellow jumpers. Although jumping and Nordic skiing are individual sports, there is a strong atmosphere of support on the hills.

“Another thing that’s been really good is that Aidan has a cohort of boys - Woody Waugh and Lucas Johanson from Cloquet and Aric David and Colin Dibb from Coleraine - that he’s jumping with,” Ken said, naming a few of the other more elite young jumpers in the area.

It took a few years and travel to bigger hills in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, but the younger Ripp said he thinks he’s got the knack of jumping.

“It’s pretty scary the first time off a really big jump,” he said. “The first time I went off the 70 [at Coleraine] was kind of crazy. But now it’s starting to feel more normal. I’m getting so good in the air, I can actually feel myself flying, not dropping down, and kind of steer myself in the air as well.”

Aidan is also a really fast Nordic skier, a sport he started when he was 3. He made the school’s varsity team this year as an eighth-grader. And, while Ken isn’t a jumper (although he did grow up 150 miles from Lake Placid), Ken is an excellent cross country skier so he’s been able to coach Aidan (and big brother, Nolan, and little sister, Charlotte, as well).

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“He was always willing to go ski, even as a kid,” Ken said. “I’d be putting my skis on to take the dog for a run at 9:30 at night and he’d say, ‘Can I come?’ I’d say sure, it’s minus 10 out but he’d still come. That was in, like, third grade.”

Aidan and his dad will fly to Colorado over the weekend, and training begins Tuesday and Wednesday, with competition on Thursday and Friday. Saturday, Aidan said, is saved for the “longest standing” competition for jumpers, which goes only by how far a person jumps, and doesn’t include style points.

Aidan reckons he’s a better racer than jumper, but he’s thrilled to be doing both.

“I’m just really excited to go,” he said. “I don’t think anyone from Cloquet has been since my coach, David Sobzcak. And I feel lucky my parents have been so supportive.”

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Aidan Ripp skis in the section meet at Giant’s Ridge for the CEC varsity Nordic ski team this season. An eighth-grader, Ripp was among the team’s top skiers by the end of the season. Jana Peterson/jpeterson@pinejournal.com

Related Topics: CLOQUET
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