The Story of NCCSEF – Interview with Dave Knoop by SkiTrax

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by Peter Graves for SkiTrax  http://skitrax.com/12101

July 23, 2010 – In this interesting interview you will read the comments of Dave Knoop, who is the current director for the National Cross Country Ski Education Foundation (NCCSEF), with some input by Reid Lutter, one of the organization’s founders. Knoop was quick to stress that work with the group is a very collective effort with a five-person board saying, “I’m the Director these days, yet when I run out of energy, I will hand it off to someone else who can help build and sustain the organization in future years.” NCCSEF is a membership based non-profit organization and what follows is an interview with a wonderful group that has made a major impact on the cross-country skiing landscape in the USA.

1997 Team (l-): Rob Whitney, Lars Flora (2002, 2006 Olympian), Ian Skinner, Pat Casey, Kristina Joder (2002 Olympian), Hailey Wappett, Barb Jones (2002 Olympian), Tessa Benoit (2002 Olympian); back row: Luke Bodensteiner NCCSEF.

The NCCSEF is based out of Utah and Reid Lutter was the founder – can you tell us how the program got going and the goals?
Reid Lutter: Rick Kapala and I stared the NCCSEF in 1994 to try and add some consistency to the development programs in the US. This was the time of a one-person World Junior team, and I was just finishing up my time as an active senior racer. There were many different development programs at the time and Rick, who had been involved 10 years longer, and I both lamented that without consistency in funding there would be no chance of international success. Our initial thought was that if we could get 100 skiers to each give $1,000, we would have a helluva fund to help the development of junior talent. We didn’t get to that number, but we did raise some seed donations and published our fundraising calendar in 1996. In February of 1997, we supported our first Junior Nordic Worlds team with grants and have supported every World Junior Team since then.

Back to you Dave, have your goals evolved over time; if so what prompted that?
Dave Knoop: Traditionally we have provided full reimbursement for the expenses the non-USST coaching staff incurs on the J1 Scando trip, U23 and Junior World Championships and OPA Cup trips. Additionally we subsidize athlete expenses such as reducing their daily expenses from say $100 a day to $80 or $50 a day.

As we move forward with greater funding, we recently provided support for the J2 National Development Camp to be held in Houghton, Michigan. Additionally we understand next year’s OPA Cup trips will be expanded from two to seven weeks so we will take a look at that aspect as well. We also want to be issuing more podium challenge incentives to the athletes such as paying for their entire trip for getting on the podium at high calibre events.

Essentially as our organization and funding grows, so will our ability to fund a variety of additional races and training events that are in line with helping the Development Pipeline to become stronger over time. This applies to both juniors and post graduate skiers.

 
DK: I have only been involved with NCCSEF for the past year. When I got involved, NCCSEF had become essentially non-operational as it didn’t fund any trips in 2009. Reid still had a $30K endowment left over and fortuitously the market bounced back in 2010 and we nearly doubled the amount in the account. We are also grateful to some key donors in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies who stepped up and provided another $60K in cash donations. These key donations have come from fewer than five people, so imagine what the NCCSEF could accomplish in funding if we had more broad-based support with smaller donations from the XC community at large as well as few more key donors from the midwest and northeast? Finally we received a huge surprise as we were named in the estate of Jerry Gilbert who passed away and left us with approximately $100K. We are always appreciative of the folks that have sent us $25 and $50 checks – it all helps. 

Overall, it wasn’t a bad year for this rookie who wanted to get involved with NCCSEF and going from $30K to $220K in funding.

 
DK: On our website at www.nccsef.org there is a “donate” button to click which allows donors to use a paypal account. Or you can send us a check to our address listed on the website, and we will always talk live in person or on the phone to anyone who may have more detailed questions about contributing. We are a 501 (c) non profit organization. 

The USA is a vast country does that making it harder on development programs? Things here are very different from Central Europe, is there an ideal template?
DK: Our strength should be that we are a diverse country in many ways. One way to play to our strengths is to re-examine how the respective local clubs within each geographic region can collaborate better. I think NENSA is one example of a good regional strategy and operation. Each region may need flexibility in developing a more robust regional approach to it’s own strategy rather than to simply adopt the NENSA template.

Can we develop a program here that can be successful year in and year out?
DK: Overall, it appears to me that many of the traditionally successful cross-country ski nations have generations of experience and success, which then becomes part of their culture. We won’t ever attract the audience that Germany does for biathlon events or have the tradition and excitement that abounds at the Holmenkollen in Norway where the King is there cheering his nation on. Realistically, I think that developing and defining what is a successful cross-country program in this country currently means that our juniors need to perform consistently better at Junior Worlds, and that other skiers that are not quite ready to ski at the World Cup level, perform well at OPA Cup races. Ultimately we strive to see our very best skiers ski consistently well, and land on the podium at World Cup races. To me this would define a successful program that would allow us to reset our goals and redefine success in terms of having real expectations of seeing our skiers consistently win Olympic and World Championship medals.

 
DK: Just before the Olympics this winter we received a call from an attorney who had been looking for us for some time. We had just revived the NCCSEF website in December and had started to get the NCCSEF name back out there again. He was calling with regard to the estate of Jerry Gilbert. 

Jerry had passed away two years earlier of cancer and had named us in his will. It looked like we were to receive approximately $100K from a Vanguard account. After stumbling a bit, and thanking the attorney I immediately set out to find out who Jerry was. I called and spoke to some of his friends like Peter Hale (Madshus), Drew Barney of West Yellowstone, and his close friend Peggy Lynn of the West Yellowstone Ski Education Foundation (WYSEF). They described Jerry as a passionate master skier. He was an INEL engineer from the Idaho Falls area and delved into cross-country skiing at many levels. He frequently volunteered to help out in anyway to help the West Yellowstone junior program, from shoveling snow on to the race course to anything else the needed his services. Jerry was also a volunteer at the 2002 Olympics at Soldier Hollow. He had a very clever, subtle, and dry sense of humor. He liked doing the quiet, behind-the-scenes, sometimes thankless work, that race organizers need. He frequently attended Audune Endestad training camps and was very knowledgeable of the comings and goings of high level athletes in the pre-internet era. We are really honored and extremely grateful for Jerry’s thoughtful gift to the NCCSEF.

You have a tight Nordic community in Utah, does being near the USST headquarters help? Do you have more access to coaches for example?

DK: In Utah, we have a plethora of current and former national team coaches and the same with regard to athletes, i.e. current and past USST members and Olympians. As in any sport if you seek guidance you can find it. For me that means working out twice a month with my good friend Jon Engen in Sun Valley and attending the USSA National Coaches Conference, like the one held in Minneapolis last fall.


DK: What I observed was that it appears that our sport may just be getting cleaner. I applaud Austria for the crack down they had prior to the Games on coaches and athletes who had a tainted past. Norway and Sweden showed the other countries how they can win, and win again, without having to resort to doping. 

What surprised you about Vancouver 2010?
DK: The good TV coverage of cross-country skiing and Nordic Combined events.

What are some of your observations of cross-country skiing in the USA?
DK: When out skiing most everyone smiles and says hello. It’s hard to be grumpy while out skiing. Everyone has a different opinion as to how we should build an infrastructure and strategy that creates  faster athletes.


DK: Many years ago I was a track and field distance runner, but even in high school I had used cross-country skiing to cross train on a low key basis. In my early 30s as I got older and more injury prone, my career and young kids needed more time from me. I was looking for a sport I could have fun and grow old with. Also as a young family we were all skiing together. Then John Aalberg, whom I knew from running, asked me and a few other guys if we wanted to go skiing with him. There he was at the peak of his skiing career asking us if we wanted to hang out with him and learn how to ski faster. Torbjorn Karlsen is also a longtime friend and neighbour so from there it was a slippery slope and I was off skiing. 

You’re a frequent voice on many xc ski blogs, what has captivated you about the sport?
DK: I have always loved winter, it’s just the most beautiful time of year. To live in the mountains and spend the day skiing – well I still consider it a privilege after many years. I’m a proud “master blaster”, yes at 52, I still like to compete in various races around the country as well as Europe. I marvel watching the younger kids with so much snap and pop in their strides. Our sport is a great sport to grow old with. One guy I really admire is Del Pletcher from Sun Valley. Del must be in his mid 60s yet he is one fit dude! I hope to be one of those 80 or 90-year-old guys you may see out there still skiing and still kickin’ it!

I’ve met a lot of people while out skiing who after a while tell you what’s going on with their life. A lot of great bonds have been made with very positive diverse groups of people. Invariably we all have very different lives yet we all love to ski.

OK, some fun things…what is your normal job?
DK: Insurance Broker/Consultant

College?
DK: University of Colorado/ GO BUFFS!

What is your current state of mind about the sport?
DK: Nordic skiers are surely the brightest, fittest, best looking, most productive people on the planet.

Favourite things away from xc skiing?

DK: I have coached youth soccer and track for many years; watching my kids and or other kids compete in various athletic events; going to church really early on Sunday mornings and having a good vibe the rest of the day while doing some type of work out in the wilderness; wilderness activities; drinking a few beers with friends.

Thanks for your time and the good work you’re all doing – we wish you continued growth and success with NCCSEF.
DK: Thank you as well.

Ida Sargent in 15km Classic race at Hinterzarten, Germany Matt Whitcomb

How did you get into the sport?

Nordic Worlds U23/Junior Team USA 2010, Hinterzarten, Germany Matt Whitcomb

What were your overall observations about the 2010 Vancouver Games?

1998 Team (back row) Rob Whitney, Andrew Johnson (2002, 2006 Olympian), Kris Freeman (2002, 2006, 2010 Olympian), Lars Flora (2002, 2006 Olympian) – (front row) Jessica Smith, Heidi Rhienhart, Kristina Joder (2002 Olympian), Rebecca (Quinn) Dussault (2006 Olympian) NCCSEF

Tell us about some of your most interesting experiences with the NCCSEF?

Ida Sargent in route to placing 4th in U23 World Championship sprint. Matt Whitcomb

How can people contribute?

Simi Hamilton on his way to winning the U23 World Championships sprint qualifier by 1 second. Matt Whitcomb

Sustaining this program involves money – how are your fund raising efforts going?

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