BY ALEX KOCHON
Family: Mom, Mimi; Dad, Ben; Brothers, Kai (19) and Trey (14)
Residence: Lake Placid and Lillehammer, Norway
Primary Sports: Nordic Combined (Ski Jumping and Nordic Skiing), Mountain Biking
Growing up as the middle child of three boys, Lake Placid native Tate Frantz was simply along for the ride. His parents, avid outdoor enthusiasts and athletes Mimi Wacholder, a former U.S. national team figure skater, and Ben Frantz, raised them with what Mimi called an “Adirondack lifestyle” as they could be usually found in the woods, on skis and hiking mountains.
The kids’ first exposure to cross-country skiing was being snuggled up inside a Chariot sled while their parents pulled them. When they outgrew the sled, Mimi and Ben rigged up a contraption with a water-ski rope and climbing harness so they could be pulled on skis. “This wasn’t really to expose them to an early start in the sport,” Mimi explained. “It was more so that we could maintain our lifestyle and continue doing what we enjoyed.”
But by age two, Tate was already following in the footsteps of his parents and older brother and beginning to ski on his own two feet. At age 2-1/2, he could ride a two-wheel bike without training wheels. By age five, he was taking his first little jumps on alpine skis at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex. “At the time they had Learn-To-Fly Wednesdays; you could just pay a nominal drop-in fee and just go after school,” Mimi explained. “So that was kind of a thing they did. In a way it’s no different than a community having after-school soccer or swimming classes, it’s just a more spectacular one.”
In second grade, Tate broke his collar bone during a bike-jump crash in their backyard, but kept riding. “Tate loved to jump off everything,” Mimi said. “He used to build piles of snow so he could do flips off our deck and jump out of our tree house. Oddly he wasn’t kamikaze, he wasn’t crazy about it, he was just really committed to testing his limits from a very young age. It was more like, ‘I wonder if I can do this?’”
Tate played – and excelled in – a lot of sports, including lacrosse, soccer and mountain biking. At a summer lacrosse camp at St. Lawrence University, the head lacrosse coach told Tate he showed a lot of promise and he should think about playing for St. Lawrence in the future. Tate was 12.
The following winter, Tate won the U.S. Junior National Ski Jumping Championship under-16 division in Anchorage, Alaska. At the ripe age of 12, he stood on the tallest step of the podium yet was still shorter than the much-older silver and bronze medalists. The following year, he defended his title at 2019 Junior Nationals in Park City, Utah, but was unable to attend the 2020 and 2021 nationals due to the pandemic. “Those two back-to-back years were pretty much turning points, when I went from being one of the normal kids to being somebody people had their eye on more and were thinking about when they saw me on the hill,” said Tate, now 16, while home for the holidays.
“I’ve always been a slightly better ski jumper than I have a cross-country skier, and especially when you’re competing against people a lot older than you, it’s a lot more difficult to keep up with them on the cross-country skiing side of things,” he explained. “That takes years of building a base of fitness, et cetera, but when you are ski jumping, since it is more of a skill and precise talent… it’s a little bit easier to be better when you’re younger.”
Nordic combined is a two-part winter sport that requires an athlete to both ski jump (off a normal 90-meter hill or large 120-meter hill) and cross-country ski race, usually the same day. It requires solid performances in both disciplines as the quality of a competitor’s jump (graded by distance and style) determines their start order (and time back from the leader) in typically a 10-kilometer, skate-technique Nordic race.
While he’s been developing as both a ski jumper and Nordic racer – which is challenging to do simultaneously because the sports require different muscles and body mass – the 5-foot, 10-inch teen has become a leading member of the U.S. Nordic Combined Junior National Team. Last winter, Tate won the U.S. Cup Series overall for 2020-21, and most recently, he flew in from Norway and won this season’s first U.S. Cup and Junior World qualifier on Dec. 29-30 in Lake Placid.
There, he won four-out-of-four competitions, including ski jumping and Nordic combined (a 10K skate-ski race). Tate also set a hill record of 99 meters, surpassing the previous best of 96.5 meters set by 25-year-old Olympian Kevin Bickner, who won the U.S. Olympic Nordic combined trials just a few days earlier. Tate is hoping his performances have secured his spot and an opportunity to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Junior World Ski Championships, which will take place Feb. 28-March 6 in Zakopane, Poland.
Before that, he would return home to Lillehammer, Norway, where he’s been attending an elite training center called the NTG (Norway’s Top Sports Gymnasium). According to his mom, Tate thoroughly researched and applied to the prestigious training center, while teaching himself Norwegian, without his parents knowing. “Tate had been sequestering in his room at night wearing headphones, learning Norwegian, before he told me his plan that he had applied to this school and done everything on his own – in Norwegian – to go to Norway,” Mimi said. “He didn’t want to make a big deal about something that might not happen.”
Once it did happen, Mimi said they couldn’t help but support his decision to go. In Norway, he lives in a dorm room with a private kitchen and is responsible for his own shopping and cooking. For international travel, he books his own flights and travels alone to meet up with other members of the U.S. team, all while navigating pandemic rules.
This past fall, he made a 2-1/2-hour trek alone to a Russian embassy to obtain a visa so he could compete at the Continental Cup in Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Considering the life-skills he’s already shown as a 16-year-old, Mimi said that his training and competition success is just a small part of the big picture. “He has already had so many life lessons in resilience, perseverance and independence,” she explained. “It is such an amazing opportunity he has to live in and navigate another country, language and culture.”
“I feel like I’ve usually been pretty independent, but I haven’t really thought about it that much,” Tate said with a laugh. “But I feel like I have gained a little bit of confidence being away for a while and competing.”
Back in Norway this month, he’ll compete at Norwegian Cups leading up to the Junior World Championships. He hopes to qualify for more Continental Cups (one level below World Cups) later this winter and plans to return to the U.S. for a North American Continental Cup tour in Park City, Whistler, B.C., and Lake Placid in March.
Looking further ahead, he’d like to finish out high school at the NTG and if all goes according to plan, make it to the Olympics in Nordic Combined. While the 2022 Olympics are just a month away and Tate is one of the top athletes in the U.S., he will need a few more years of experience competing internationally to be seasoned for an Olympic Games.
Asked how he found success at ski jumping at such an early age, Tate said it came naturally. “If you see a picture of somebody ski jumping, they’re pretty much flat on their skis in the air, and that can be something that takes people a really long time to get,” he said. “I guess when I was just starting to be a little more fearless, I wasn’t afraid to get right on the skis, get aggressive, and just try to really fly.”
He credited his success to being coachable. In Lake Placid, he was originally coached by Andrew Bliss, Dave McCahill, and Larry Stone, followed by Colin Delaney. His current coaches are U.S. national team coach Nick Hendrickson and NTG coach Iver Markengbakken.
At this point, the cost of Tate’s Olympic dreams is not just the countless hours on the hills and trails, it is also the strain of the financial component. Ten years of elite-level training can cost more than the average American home. Tate has been named an athlete ambassador for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, but is looking to secure sponsors in the near future to help offset his expenses and support his mission to compete at the 2026 Olympics. You can follow Tate on Instagram @tate_frantzz or cheer for him in Lake Placid at the Continental Cup in March.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Gansevoort is a freelance writer, editor, and outdoor-loving mom of two who enjoys adventuring in the Adirondacks.