Park City, UT
I realize I’m getting a bit over-involved these days but Alan (who shares the history of Project X begot USASJ begot USANS, below) asked that I share a challenge. Before I do, I want to point out that Alan’s ability to share the details of our past 17 years reflects his position (and generosity of time, expertise, and money) as driver of that history. In typical Alan fashion, he puts his wallet where his heart is and this year decided that USANS needed the $5K that was earmarked for a long awaited sauna more than he needed exfoliated wintertime pores. Alan emailed last night saying that if 5 more people could come up with another $5K, he would double down and match it.
So there you go. Gauntlet tossed. A challenge from Alan. Talk amongst yourselves or Alan and let me know. If you’re looking to tap Alan’s match, note it in the comments section of your donation.
USANS – A 17-year journey of ski jumping and Nordic combined (2006-2023)
Stage 1 – THE BEGINNING
After the USSA spring meetings in 2006 a pattern of diminished financial support for ski jumping had become very apparent. The “handwriting was on the wall” so to speak and we needed a plan. With help from Jim Holland and Chuck Heckert I applied for a 501c3 non-profit status in November 2006, and Ski Jumping Development USA was born.
As suspected, in the spring of 2007 USSA dropped the sport of ski jumping! No more money! No more support! The “death knell” had been rung, Marolt’s dream had come true.
Well, we weren’t dead yet. We had our tax status as a fundraising vehicle and a long history behind us. The jumping community was so upset at this turn of events they rallied more than anyone could have expected. Beginning in 2007, Jim Holland made a sizeable donation that would serve as our startup capital (more than 50% of operations budget). The balance came from donations (ex-athletes, coaches, parents, officials, fans). It was truly inspiring. The community would not die. It rallied to take on responsibility for the sport to survive. We didn’t have much, but we had enough to name and partially support a team to represent the US in international competition for the 2007 season.
With some help from Walter Hofer (FIS Director) we found a coach. Jochen Danneberg, a legendary athlete in his day and prior coach of German, Swiss and Korean teams was headed to Park City.
His package was manageable, a $50k salary and free room and board at the log cabin with Alissa and me. There was just one last detail to figure out. What would we call ourselves? We couldn’t be the US Ski Jumping Team for a host of reasons, some legal, some emotional. We decided on “Project X” and for the next 3 years put together an efficient, cost-effective program. Jochen coached World Cup, Ernst Wimmer coached COC (100 euros per day on those weekends). I was a volunteer program director and part time coach. Joe Holland, “a recovering CPA” was our volunteer CFO.
We had some very talented athletes during this period such as: Johnny Lyons, Chris Lamb, Nick Alexander, Nick Fairall, Mike Glasder, Kyle Lockhart, Evan Bliss, Anders Johnson, and Peter Frenette. Leading into the 2010 Games in Vancouver we now had 3 guys who had scored world Cup points and made the qualifying quota for the Games.
Stage 2 – THE GROWTH
In the summer or fall (I can’t remember cuz I am old) of 2009, Jeff Hastings organized a 25-year reunion of the 1984 jumping team. It proved to be a catalyst for Project X and Ski Jumping Development USA to be more than just a team to compete, but to address the development issues necessary for future success at all levels. I figured if I attended this event and could get a couple people to sample the “Kool-Aid” we could get a couple more watercarriers on board. Within a month of the reunion Jeff Hastings and Rex Bell emerged, fully hydrated with the beverage of choice, and we began a new era. Rex and Jeff put in endless hours exploring marketing, sponsorship, fundraising and development program ideas. Things were happening and we were going places. We added a DBA to the 501c3. We were now USA Ski Jumping (USASJ)
During the World Cup spring tour of 2010 an event occurred that changed things up a bit. Jochen had a stroke. I got a 3am call from the boys. What are we going to do? Do we have to come home? Our old friend Berni Schodler (Swiss coach) came to the rescue and took care of the team for the remainder of the tour.
With Jochen gone we now had some coaching duties to fill. As luck would have it (plus arm twisting) were fortunate enough to get Clint Jones back from Canada to take over the reins. He was joined by Casey Colby as an assistant. Clint and Casey did a great job of transitioning our guys into a newer system with a bit more energy. A couple years later as the need for a junior/development coach became apparent, Bine Norcic came on board (2012 or 13?). For the next 3 years, with influence from Bine, we gradually transitioned much of our home base of operations/daily training to Slovenia, which became our home away from home.
Stage 3 – THE BUILDOUT (The Slovenian Transition, adding NC, and Women’s SJ)
Fast forward to 2016. USSA drops Nordic Combined. NC needed a landing spot and starting from scratch seemed too daunting. After some serious considerations USASJ figured out a way to bring them onboard. In doing so we doubled our team sizes, our coaching staff, and our need for the finances to support everyone. It was risky to say the least.
Enter Billy Demong -2016
Billy jumped in during the uploading of NC which was a natural for obvious reasons. Billy had boundless energy and proved to be a great ‘spokesperson’ and salesman for our newly grown organization. He was the penultimate pied piper.
The following year (2017) we inherited the women’s team under similar circumstances. While all this was happening, we had in 2013 added a Development/Coaches Education position with Gary Crawford who was replaced a couple years later by Jed Hinkley.
Now we had men’s and women’s ski jump teams, men’s and women’s Nordic combined teams, the coaching staffs for each discipline, an office staff of 2 people, and development director. Essentially, we were checking all the boxes as an NGB and at one point almost got that designation. We rebranded ourselves again during this process to USANS (USA Nordic Sports)
Fast forward to 2020. Covid in hindsight had a devastating impact on USANS from many angles.
- Between 2020-2021 seasons USANS spent approximately 150k on unplanned, unbudgeted Covid tests as per FIS protocols.
- The Covid era also created an apprehensive financial world, ie, sport sponsorship and partnerships went into a holding pattern and even currently are slow to return to previous levels.
In 2021 we began falling behind our projections in revenue generation to feed the beast. We also, to be honest, did a less than stellar job in staying on budget and making more timely and responsible adjustments as shortfalls were becoming apparent. Existing sponsors were not re-signing and as mentioned, new sponsorships were in holding patterns.
2022 was even worse for all the same reasons.
Which brings us to today December 23, 2023.
NO SUGAR COATING IT – The financial strains on our organization are real. In order to continue supporting our athletes, sports, and mission, we really need your support now!
We arguably have the best athletes in many years.
Last year was the most successful season for men’s ski jumping since 1987. Four athletes scored WC points (Larson, Belshaw, Urlaub, Dean) we finished 7th in the team event at world Championships. We finished 6th in the Super Team event in Rasnov just off the podium.
Our women’s team was the best since 2017. Three athletes scored WC points (Belshaw, Jones and Johnson). Belshaw finished 9 times in the top 30 with 3 top 20 finishes.
This year our Nordic combined team is off to their best start in nearly a decade. Currently 3 athletes are ranked in the top 28 of the World Cup standings (Malcinski, Schuman, and Loomis). All 3 have recorded their new personal bests and as a nation we are poised to finish higher than we’ve been ranked in the Nation’s Cup since 2014. On the women’s side Annika Malacinski set a new personal best of 8th place with Alexa Brabec recording a personal best of 18th.
We are starting our 2nd year of the Norwegian Collaboration with the jumping team. It has far exceeded our expectations and is only getting stronger. I could write volumes on this but will leave those details to someone else, like Rex.
We initiated a similar collaboration with our Nordic Combined team and Norway just 5 months ago. I believe that success is already apparent based on our results so far.
As you can see, we finally have the programs and athletes in place for success. We just need to make sure we can support them enough to succeed. We need to rally and all put a little more skin into the game. These are our athletes, and this is our community. We need to let the world know USA Ski Jumping is not only here to stay but moving up the line. If we can all dig just a little deeper, we will get through the next few difficult months with results we can all take Pride and Ownership in.