Last June, while most Cloquet High School graduates were spending the summer working to earn money for college or starting their careers, Aidan Ripp was packing his car.
Instead of a traditional path, he decided to take a year off to train with the U.S. Ski Team in the Nordic combined event and headed to Colorado for summer workouts.
“I just drove out there, and we pretty much skied out there for a month and a half,” Ripp said.
In February, Ripp was one of four U.S. skiers selected to travel to the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Oberweisenthal, Germany to compete in the Nordic combined event.
Ripp participated in the individual event Wednesday, March 4, and team events are scheduled for Friday, March 6, and Sunday, March 8.
Skiing with world class athletes is a far cry from where he started in the sport more than 10 years ago.
When Ripp and his family moved from Duluth to Cloquet, he was 8 years old. He had been Nordic skiing since he was three or four, but he had never jumped. Woody Waugh — a friend from soccer — and his dad Jon Waugh invited him to try it out at the Pine Valley ski jump in Cloquet.
It wasn’t long before he was hooked.
Ripp started traveling to competitions, first to Mt. Itasca in Coleraine, and then to events in the Twin Cities, Wisconsin and even Chicago.
Ripp eventually qualified for the junior national team as a 14-year-old, an achievement he repeated three times. The travel and qualification were a watershed moment for Ripp.
“I think that was a turning point to say, ‘Ok, maybe I can really take this somewhere and really work at it,’” he said. “That exposure to travel and meeting other people made everything a little more competitive.”
The biggest problem in the early years was the size for the Cloquet Ski Club, which Ripp said was “dying” when he first moved to Cloquet. There were just a handful of members and little help from the Central Ski Jumping Division the Cloquet and other Midwestern clubs are a part of.
“We thought of ourselves as a ghost club,” Ripp said. “No one in our division even knew we existed. We were just some small, tiny little club.”
While Ripp threw himself into training as a jumper and Nordic skier, his father, Ken Ripp, worked with Jon Waugh and Pat Marciniak to rebuild the club. These days the organization has nearly 50 kids jumping and about 100 kids skiing, Waugh said.
The training Ripp has done since graduating in June isn’t that different from what he did in Cloquet — there’s simply more of it on a consistent basis, he said.
He has also enjoyed skiing the Nordic combined event in Europe, where many more athletes compete than in the U.S.
“It’s definitely a lot more fun to have a lot of people to ski with,” Ripp said. “In the U.S., we’ll have a race and there’s just like six of us, so you’re not really skiing with that many guys. It’s definitely kind of nuts.”