Ski jumpers fly over Cloquet at Pine Valley
Pine Valley Park offers one of the area's only functioning ski jumps.
It’s an eerie feeling standing alone atop the 40-meter ski jump at Pine Valley Park in Cloquet.
From the starting gate, the lights from much of the city south of the St. Louis River can be seen. What skiers can’t see, however, is where they are supposed to land after flying off the jump at high speed.
The jump is intimidating to the uninitiated, but for members of the Cloquet Ski Club, taking a leap off the ramp that dominates the hill above Pine Valley is just another winter afternoon.
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Ken Ripp and other members of the club worked throughout November and early December to get Pine Valley ready for jumpers and Nordic skiers. In fact, the jumps in Cloquet were the first in the U.S. to have skiers landing on snow instead of a plastic run.
Most weeknights from 4-8 p.m., kids of all ages are practicing on the jumps and developing their skills, many nights with Ken and his son, Aidan Ripp — who spent 2019 and the early part of 2020 training and competing with the U.S. Ski Team.
When skiers arrive at the top of the jump, they wait for a sign from Ken, Aidan or another coach to tell them the run is clear and it’s safe for them to start.
On his way back up after a run, Ken stopped 9-year-old Simon Langer for some instruction.
“What do you think you did wrong there?” Ken asked.
Langer considered the question and realized he knew the answer.
“I didn’t push off enough,” he replied.
Ken smiled and nodded as he sent Langer to climb the 40-meter jump again. Langer said skiing off the jumps can be scary, but the end result is worth it.
“It’s fun because you get to basically fly,” he said.
Pine Valley also has a 20-meter jump and a smaller training jump to help kids learn techniques and get used to the steep inclines where they land.
The process of learning the skill is part of what keeps Ken’s 16-year-old daughter, Charlotte, coming back.
“I feel like you just fall in love with the feeling of getting better at it,” she said. “You can tell the progression when you take a good jump and you’re like, ‘Oh, I can do this,’ and you always want the rush of adrenaline of going farther and jumping higher.”
The jumps at Pine Valley are the only active ones in northeastern Minnesota after those at Chester Bowl in Duluth were dismantled in 2014 after falling into disrepair — a fate the Ripps hope to avoid at Pine Valley. The next closest jumps are at Mt. Itasca in Coleraine, Minnesota, more than an hour from Cloquet.
Maintaining the jumps in Cloquet requires a “tremendous amount of manpower,” according to Ken, but parents in the ski club volunteer to haul snow up the hill to pack in the track, maintain the rope tow and groom the runs skiers land on.
“Everything takes three times longer than it looks,” Aidan said.
The Cloquet Ski Club has grown over the past 12 years or so since the Ripps became involved. When Aidan first started skiing at Pine Valley as an 8-year-old, it was a “ghost club,” Ken said, with just a few member families.
While Aidan and Charlotte were learning to jump, Ken worked with club organizers Jon Waugh and Pat Marciniak to rebuild the membership. Today, the club has more than 100 kids skiing on the Nordic ski trails at Pine Valley and 50 jumping.
What’s more, the sport is ideal for parents during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The biggest thing for us was to get our kids outside,” Ken said. “Plus, it’s a great social distance sport because most of the time you are far, far away from everyone else.”
To learn more about the Pine Valley ski jumps or to join the club, visit cloquetskiclub.com .