U.S. Nordic combined funding cut felt in the region

Tate Frantz of Lake Placid competes in the FIS Continental Cup for Nordic combined on March 26, 2022, in Lake Placid. (News photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — Funding for the U.S. Nordic combined program suddenly melted away last week as the national team’s organization says it risked going bankrupt on the sport due to low sponsorships and attention. This move stunned local athletes rising in the field and likely ended the future of a Lake Placid teen in the combined cross-county skiing and ski jumping sport.

Parents of Nordic combined athletes in Colorado have started a fundraising nonprofit in an attempt to save the sport they love. But Kai McKinnon, 15, from Lake Placid, said the pulling of funding for training and coaching will likely push her to change gears to focus on cross-country skiing individually next season.

McKinnon and Alexa Brabec won the U.S. its first medal in a team women’s Nordic combined event at the Junior World Championship last year, taking the silver. She was nominated to the national team last month. But, now, she said she doesn’t see a future for herself in the sport.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” McKinnon said of the funding loss on June 28. “I was really looking forward to starting to travel with the team and do World Cups and all that exciting stuff. But then that (announcement) came out, and all of it just kind of whisked away.”

McKinnon said she plans to finish the year off and then focus on cross-country skiing.

Brabec, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is also a member of the national team. Her mother, Jill, said they knew of the sport’s financial challenges and formed a nonprofit named Nordic Combined USA, Inc. a month and a half ago. When the funding was pulled this week, she started spreading the word about it.

All the money they raise will directly support training for the national team, Jill said.

Nordic combined, as its name implies, combines the sports of cross-country skiing and ski jumping into one joint event. These three disciplines are grouped under the label of Nordic skiing. The Nordic combined and ski jumping sports are led in America by the USA Nordic Sport organization.

The sport as a whole is coming to a pivotal crossroads amid reported weak global interest. The International Olympic Committee has warned it could be cut from the 2030 Winter Games program. The fate of Olympic Nordic combined racing is expected to be decided in 2026. The IOC says it wants to see more nations competitive in the sport and more viewership. Athletes and coaches say they want the IOC to finally add a women’s division to Nordic combined, as it is the sole remaining Olympic event without gender equality, and to see more promotion of a sport they say is often misunderstood.

In 2022, USANS partnered with the Norwegian ski jumping team, opening both teams up for cross-training at their courses and jumps, as well as tutelage from each other’s instructors. Nordic combined athletes have described great improvements from this partnership as they have access to wax technicians, coaches, international camaraderie, high-level equipment like suits and skis, and facilities in the nation that birthed the sport.

But without the needed funding, this four-year partnership is set to end half-way through its intended duration.

In April, USANS set a fundraising goal for its Nordic combined and ski jumping programs of $150,000 by the end of May to continue this partnership. After a deadline extension into June, Nordic combined still did not meet that goal.

“It’s definitely a let-down,” said Colin Delaney, the head Nordic combined coach for the New York Ski Educational Foundation, based at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington.

He said he doesn’t agree with the decision to end the funding for the sport.

“But it’s understandable, I guess,” Delaney said.

It’s a pretty niche sport, and there is a lot of competition for eyeballs on winter sports. He understands that it is not televised as much as other sports because viewership and sponsorship is low, but said this is a sort of chicken-and-egg scenario.

“If it’s not being televised, then I don’t know how people can watch it,” Delaney said.

On Friday, after the news broke, Delaney was coaching a junior training camp with kids ages 6 to 12 from around the Northeast, who were leaping on the smaller jumps and roller-skiing. He was concerned about the young athletes entering the sport.

“There are athletes that are uniquely drawn to Nordic combined that won’t continue to pursue elite athletics in either ski jumping or cross-country skiing if Nordic combined becomes not funded,” Delaney said.

They love the adrenaline-laced technicality of ski jumping combined with the rewarding endurance of cross-country ski racing.

“There’s nothing like the thrill of flying,” Delaney said.

But he said the young athletes are keeping their heads down and sticking to their training. There’s hope for the sport’s future, and, in the meantime, personal progress to pursue.

“The Olympics isn’t the only motivation for these athletes,” Delaney said. “Just the pursuit of being your best.”

USANS’s ski jumping program has had more donors to keep its Norwegian partnership. Tate Frantz, 19, from Lake Placid, said as a ski jumper, it is hard to see his friends on the Nordic combined team go through something difficult. He was concerned people think this was the athletes’ decision and said it was not.

“I had some people that were thinking it was us pushing for this,” he said. “For us athletes, it was a pretty big surprise.”

Nearby, Paul Smith’s College has been USA Nordic’s official “Higher Education Partner” since 2021. In 2019, USA Nordic made PSC its East Coast training center. Last year, PSC students Aidan Ripp and Timothy Ziegler represented the team in the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games in Lake Placid.


McKinnon worries the grassroots fundraising effort started too late for her to stay in next season.

“I don’t have the funding to do that all on my own,” McKinnon said. “My family and I, we can’t support that, and I don’t want to put that on them.”

The travel, the equipment, the coaches, that all takes a lot of money.

“As much as I love Nordic combined, I don’t think that there’s a path for me to go down it anymore,” she said.

She wants to go to college and get a job and doesn’t think she’d be able to with Nordic combined.

“There wouldn’t be any end-goal, because it’s not in the Olympics,” McKinnon said, referring to the exclusion of a women’s division.

McKinnon said she probably sounds negative, but she’s seeing it as an opportunity to focus on cross-country skiing with her “incredible” NYSEF coaches and teammates, and try to go D1 in college.

“I love ski jumping, but I could never just do jumping,” she said with a laugh. “I would go insane. It’s a super-stressful, frustrating, tedious sport.”

She said the therapy of cross-country skiing gets her through the tense jumps.

McKinnon started skiing in her driveway at the age of 3.

“I used to hate (cross-country), actually,” McKinnon said. “Because I didn’t like doing anything hard, like most kids. But I loved jumping.”

As she grew, she realized she loved the endurance and the adrenaline of a cross-country race.

“After you do it for a while, you start to enjoy the pain,” she said. “I run, too. It’s just a feeling that you can’t get with anything else.”

“Around that age, jumping started to get harder,” she added.

The up and down cycle of improvement in jumping is really hard.

“The lows can be super, super devastating,” she said.

Women in Olympics

In 2022, the IOC said it would not open the sport to women. In 2026, it will likely either make a decision to admit women into the sport or cut the whole sport, Jill said.

The IOC reports that Nordic combined has “by far the lowest audience numbers” of winter Olympic sports and that only four nations swept all the medals.

Jill said the lack of women in the Olympic level of the sport is a key issue for is popularity.

The nonprofit’s website advocates for the addition of women in the 2030 Olympics and for people to support women in the sport by watching it.

“This seems to be the year of the woman as far as sports goes,” Jill said. “I think that the sport is missing out on an opportunity by not having women’s Nordic combined in the Olympics.”

McKinnon said the IOC gives “excuses” about why it does not include a women’s division.

“It’s pretty stupid,” she said.

And it is suggesting it might fully eliminate the sport because it doesn’t get enough viewership.

“It’s all about the money at the end of the day,” McKinnon said.

“It’s one of the original Olympic sports,” she added.

Nordic combined has been an Olympic sport since the Winter Olympics’ inception 100 years ago at the 1924 Chamonix, France, games.

“So I feel like if it’s not about viewership, it could at least be about tradition,” McKinnon said.


The Norwegian partnership netted results — personal bests from five of the seven athletes, Jill said.

Delaney said the partnership with Norway has netted results even for his organization.

“The knowledge and culture has even trickled down to club level from the national team coaches,” Delaney said. “The (Norwegians) been super approachable and gracious with their time even for the non-national team athletes.”

Ski jumper Frantz said learning from and alongside the Norwegians has created a great “atmosphere.”

“We’re pretty much just one big team,” Frantz said.

For 10 months of the year, he said they train together in Lillehammer, Norway, and then travel together for competitions.

“The Norwegian athletes are athletes that a lot of us have looked up to when we were younger, so it’s cool to be training and competing alongside the best guys in the world,” Frantz said. “I’d say it’s more motivating than anything.”

Jill said the nonprofit organizers have restarted conversations with the Norway team.

“They are super supportive and want to do what they can to help,” she said.

Most of the athletes still have plane tickets and plans to return to Norway at the end of July, she added. Jill said they have an immediate need of $150,000 to get back on track with Norway by then. Then, they have a goal of raising $500,000 to stabilize the program by January.

Another goal of the nonprofit is to support youth clubs where developing athletes enter the pipeline for the national team.

Currently, donation checks can be mailed to “Nordic Combined USA / PO Box 771815 / Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.” An online donation link at their website nordiccombinedusa.org is expected soon and all donations are tax deductible, according to the website.

Jill said they have raised $40,000 so far but only started promoting the nonprofit in the past week.

Vermontville native and Olympic Nordic combined medalist Billy Demong was named as a founding member of this nonprofit in national news articles, but he told the News while the organizers have asked for his support and that he is “definitely” going to try to help, he doesn’t have any formal plan or engagement with the fundraiser yet.

Jill said they have developed a marketing plan to increase the sport’s visibility through social media and education.

McKinnon said the sport is in a “dire situation,” but that it is not really any one person’s fault. The sport’s just never had a lot of outside support.

Delaney said viewers don’t always understand what goes into Nordic combined. He admits, he’s biased and understands the sport on a deeper level, but he said it’s an exciting watch.

Jill said nonprofit organizers have planned a big fundraiser on Wednesday, July 3 as part of the Fourth of July “Ski Jumping Extravaganza” at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs.

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