Ski Tales: Demong making a name for himself

Billy Demong is one of the best Nordic combined skiers in the world, and the eight World Cup wins he

Ask just about any person on the street if they know who Bode Miller is and you’ll probably get, “Sure. He’s the skier.”

How about Billy Demong? “Uh ,. . . Billy who?”

Miller, of course, is one of the best Alpine ski racers in the world, and he’s got a slew of World Cup hardware to prove it.

Demong is one of the best Nordic combined skiers in the world, and the eight World Cup wins he has scored in that discipline (five last season) are proof enough of that. Demong finished the 2009 World Cup season with a total of 10 pod­iums and, for the second season in a row, he finished third overall.

Still, recognition is slow in coming to the Saranac Lake High School graduate.

New Hampshire native Miller is well known in America, but he’s treated like a rock star in the Alpine nations of Europe, espec­ially Austria.

In a recent conversation, Demong said he is beginning to enjoy some recognition in Scandanavia, where Nordic skiing is a way of life.

And why not?

On March 15, he skied and jumped off with the King’s Cup, one of the most important Nordic compet­itions in Norway. After the event, part of the prestigious Holmenkollen Ski Festival, he was presented with the cup in the private booth of Norway’s King Harald V.

I caught up with Demong in Oct­ober at the 2010 U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships in Lake Placid. He was sitting the event out because of a shoulder injury sustained during training a week earlier.

Nordic combined is a sport combining ski jumping and cross country skiing. In the winter, the competition is on snow. During the summer and fall, the jumping is on plastic and the skiing is on rollerskis. Demong hurt his shoulder when he took a tumble while rolling along in a practice run.

I asked him what thrilled him the most last season and, surprisingly, he said it was the bronze medal he won at the Nordic World Championships in Liberec, a resort in the Czech Republic. Surprising, because he also won a gold medal during the championships.

The bronze was special, he said, because he shared the podium with his teammate, Todd Lodwick of Steamboat Springs, Colo. Lodwick won the event, and this was the first time two American athletes stood on a podium together at a World Championship Nordic combined event.

“That was a huge day for both of us and the entire U.S. Nordic combined program,” Demong said.

Lodwick and Demong each won gold medals in “Gunderson start” events in which the start order of the cross country race is determined by the order of finish in the jump. The skier with the best jump starts first and the others follow in order. For a win, you have to catch and pass every skier who jumped better than you.

Lodwick also won a combined event with a mass start cross country race, meaning the U.S. swept all three individual Nordic combined competitions at the 2009 World Championships.

Demong is hoping the momentum from last season will carry over to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“Our big goal is to win the first Olympic medals in Nordic combined for the United States,” he said.

“I think it’s very possible. We have a good team and several different athletes who could potentially stand on the podium as individuals and we could do it as a team.”

He knows the Nordic combined skiers from Scandanavia and Europe will be gunning for them.

“They definitely accept us as one of the best teams, especially after last season,” he said. “I think they know we’re one of the teams to beat.”

Demong was raised in Vermontville, a hamlet just outside of Sar­anac Lake.

I asked him how his Adirondack upbringing helped prepare him for World Cup Nordic skiing.

“I remember from a young age always being outside, going on canoe trips, hiking mountains, swimming, fishing and cross country skiing in the winter,” he said. “For me and my friends, ‘What are we going to do today?’ was always ‘What are we going to do outside today?’ ”


Part of his training was running up mountains, and those familiar with Adirondack high peaks would be impressed to know he ran from the parking lot to the top of Cascade Mountain in 28 minutes. The average hiker probably makes the climb in an hour plus.

Demong skied and ran cross country for Saranac Lake High School, graduating in 1998. Already a member of the U.S. ski team, he moved to Park City, Utah, for team training soon after.

Since then, he’s been gradually moving up the ladder toward the top of the Nordic combined ski world.

He hopes to land on one of the top three rungs in Vancouver.

The U.S. Nordic combined team skipped the opening World Cup event of the season in Kuusamo, Finland, Nov. 28-29, electing, instead, to train in Lillehammer, Norway. The World Cup then came to them. Races scheduled further north in Trondheim last weekend were held in Lillehammer for reasons of better snow. Demong finished 14th on Saturday. His teammate, Johnny Spillane of Steamboat Springs, Colo., finished sixth in a race won by Jason Lamy Chappuis of France. On Sunday, both Amer­icans moved up, with Spillane placing fourth and Demong coming in eighth. The winner was Tino Edelmann of Germany.


Demong is not the only north country Nordic skier hoping to make history in Vancouver.

Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, a 27-year-old biathlete, placed second in the opening World Cup biathlon competition in Ostersund, Sweden Dec. 3. His silver medal matched the best finish ever for an American in a biathlon event. On Saturday, Burke made more history by finishing third in the biathlon sprint event in Ostersund. His bronze was the first medal ever won by an American at the sprint distance (10-kilometer). The Dec. 3 race was on a 20-kilometer course.

As in Nordic combined, the United States has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon, which combines cross country skiing with rifle marksmanship. Athletes ski a 10K or 20K course with penalty laps assigned for missed targets.

The sport has been dominated by Norwegians, Germans and Russians over the years. Before last season, Americans had only won four medals at World Cups and the World Championships. Jeremy Teele’s third place in a World Cup event last March was the first American podium finish in 17 years. The best American placing in the Olympics was sixth in a relay in 1972.

Burke’s silver and bronze World Cup medals at Ostersund shows promise that a fast skiing American sharpshooter could land on the pod­ium at Vancouver in February.

Like Demong, Burke is a Saranac Lake High School graduate.


Lapland Lake in Benson opened for cross country skiing and snowshoeing on Thursday. The Nordic vacation center received 12 inches of new snow Wednesday on top of two inches already on the ground. The area is up and running with 16 kilometers of groomed beginner and intermediate trails and 12 kilometers of snowshoe trails. For an update call 863-4974 or visit

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