LAKE PLACID — Not that many people get the chance to compete for an Olympic roster spot, but Aidan Ripp earned that chance.
Ripp, a sophomore at Paul Smith’s College, competed at the U.S. Nordic combined Olympic Team Trials in Lake Placid on Dec. 24. In a sport that combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing, he finished in 12th place overall.
Although Ripp, 21, won’t be headed to the Olympics, he was happy with the results of his first Olympic try-out on the Nordic combined ski team. He spent much of his time in December traveling, which is why he felt good about his result in what he described as the highest-caliber race he had ever been a part of.
“I went to a Continental Cup in China two weeks before, and I made a drive home to Minnesota just the week before,” Ripp said. “Considering what I’ve been through, I was quite content.”
In his short time at Paul Smith’s, the pandemic and the recent modernization of the Lake Placid ski jumps has limited Ripp’s training and competition.
“Last year, it being a COVID year, it was a struggle. … It was hard to get back in the rhythm,” he said on Dec. 29. “Definitely by the end of the year last year, it kind of dialed down and this year has been amazing. So I really have no complaints.”
Apart from a USA Nordic Camp in November 2021, Ripp said the Olympic Team Trials marked the second time he had jumped off the modernized jumps in Lake Placid.
“Technically last winter we had jumped off them all winter, but they were the old style. They hadn’t redone the landing hill,” Ripp said. “But this is one of the first sessions I’ve had on the contoured hill.”
Even with the many challenges, Ripp never stopped training. While on campus, he has mostly trained at the E. Philip Saunders Nordic and Biathlon Stadium and will continue to train at the new ski trail.
“I just really enjoy the sport. I enjoy cross-country skiing quite a lot. That’s that for me,” Ripp said. “At home, there hasn’t been a lot of jumps that have been open. For me to have somewhere I can instantly train has been really, really fun. I just like what I do. I just enjoy the training.”
Ripp, of Cloquet, Minnesota, started cross-country skiing early in life, and he said it’s been the best aspect of his time in Nordic combined.
While competing against some of the best American Nordic combined athletes at the Olympic Team Trials, he finished the cross-country ski portion with a time of 25 minutes and 10.2 seconds, which was the eighth-fastest time.
In the ski jumping portion, he jumped 73.5 meters at the trials and earned a total of 73 points, which was the 12th longest jump. Though his jump pushed his start time back, his time on the cross-country race proved he was worthy of competing in the Olympic trials.
“I’ve been training more cross-country recently being at Paul Smith’s. The jumps in Lake Placid have been under construction quite a bit,” Ripp said. “It led me to focus a bit more on cross-country, but I’ve usually been a stronger cross-country skier than a jumper.”
His fast time on the cross-country portion did not come as a shock, as he started to ski when he was around 4 years old before. He started ski jumping around the age of 7, and a few years later he realized he could combine the two sports.
“By that point, I started competing in Nordic combined probably when I was about 13 or 14, and then really competitively when I was about 15,” Ripp said.
In 2017, Ripp became a member of the USA Nordic Junior National Team — a team he is still a member of today — and by 2019 he had already competed in six Continental Cups and a Junior World Championship.
At 19 years old, he became the first USA Nordic athlete to enroll at Paul Smith’s College. His decision came shortly after the college had made upgrades to the Paul Smith’s College VIC ski trails and was named as the Official Higher Education Partner of USA Nordic. He said both played a role in his decision to attend the school.
“I do like the area and the team and the coach. But definitely the facilities there are amazing,” Ripp said. “It’s really nice to be able to live and ski in the same place.”
Ripp will continue his journey in Nordic combined as a member of the Paul Smith’s Nordic ski team, which will start competing on Jan. 15. He will also likely compete in the International Ski Federation Nordic Combined Continental Cup held in Lake Placid in March.