If you’re planning on racing in Europe this winter on any of the trips supported by the National Cross-Country Ski Education Foundation (NCCSEF), you can thank Jerry Gilbert.
Gilbert, a retired electrical engineer and avid master skier, died of lymphoma in 2008, and in his will, he left some $80,000 for NCCSEF. The money took nearly two years to find its way to the organization, but now that it has, that donation should be supporting aspiring athletes for decades to come.
With the help of Gilbert, and under the leadership of Business Director Dave Knoop, NCCSEF has nearly doubled its budget for the 2011 season, jumping from $25,000 to $43,000 in the last year. It has also expanded its initiatives, with plans to support athletes on trips to Finland for early season racing, as well as those heading to Norway in February for the World Ski Championships.
And according to Knoop, the organization isn’t done. Additional funding—as much as $20,000 to 30,000 more—could come into play later this season, in the shape of individual skier grants as rewards for top finishes, or as support for groups already planning on travel to Europe.
“We’re going to take another look later this fall,” Knoop said. “[Those] are ideas that we’re kicking around for our next round of funding.”
Founded by Reid Lutter and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Program Director Rick Kapala in 1995, NCCSEF has typically disbursed grants and funded American trips to the World Junior and U-23 Championships, as well as a team of younger juniors that travels to Scandinavia for competitions.
This year, the funding is going deeper into the pipeline. In addition to money for the aforementioned projects, NCCSEF is providing financial support for a late-season domestic European tour, similar to a trip that they helped send to France and Slovenia last year.
Beyond that, there are the new initiatives that will fund the season-opening races in Finland and the World Ski Championships in Norway.
“They’re really prioritizing supporting international trips, and in my opinion, that’s the right place to be sending this thing,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Nordic Director John Farra, who sits on NCCSEF’s board as a liaison between the two organizations. “These are small steps, and they’re small amounts of money right now, but I think they’re going to be really directly benefiting the athletes in our pipeline that really need it.”
Knoop took over management of organization before the last season, and after appealing to some key donors, was able to raise another $60,000 over and above the Gilbert bequest. That, combined with some money that Lutter had set aside from previous years, left the organization with roughly $220,000 in the bank at the beginning of this season.
While disbursing that money is the fun part, Knoop said that he’s conscious of the need to maintain a healthy balance in NCCSEF’s coffers for years to come, in the form of an endowment.
“That concept creates long-term sustainability, so that it’s not a flash in the pan,” Knoop said. “The idea of building up an endowment, but also spending more on projects—it’s a balance…It will be an ongoing discussion with the board as to how much is appropriate to spend.”
In an interview, Knoop said he didn’t know the endowment’s current value given the recent funding commitments, but he pegged it at somewhere between $100,00 and $200,000. He said that he would like to see it grow to $500,000.
USSA and NCCSEF are both non-profits, and it might seem that the two would be competing for the same pool of money. But both Farra and Knoop maintained that their organizations were complimentary.
“My bosses have no problem with it, because essentially, what NCCSEF is doing is it’s picking up where we leave off—it’s a really healthy partnership that way,” Farra said. “It’s not trying to duplicate. If my budgets were bigger, I’d probably be thinking about it similarly.”
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.