Walk into any local coffee shop and chances are you’ll rub elbows with the elite of elite athletes. Yep, that guy sipping a cup o’ joe next to you might just be Billy Demong, a two-time Olympic medalist in the little-known sport of Nordic combined. Now at the helm of USA Nordic, Demong talks about his sport, his adopted hometown, and the next generation of young athletes.
Billy, you’re part of the fabric of Park City but actually grew up in Lake Placid.
I was born a month after the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. My mom attended all five of Eric Heiden’s medal ceremonies when she was pregnant with me and told me all about it. So, I was inspired from an early age to pursue sports and was naturally competitive. I fell in love with cross-country skiing at six.
Were you good?
I was awful at combined—good at cross-country, but not jumping. Then [local Olympian] Joe Lamb brought a coach from Norway over one summer. He didn’t know how bad I was. After six weeks, I figured out how to get out over my jumping skis, and that led to my first Olympic berth in 1998.
Was there a defining point for you as a youth?
At 15, I finished fourth at Junior Nationals. I complained all the way home. Dad said, “If it isn’t fun, why do you want to do it anymore?” He never pushed me to be an Olympian. He measured success by how happy I was. The rest was up to me.
What drew you away from New York and ultimately to Park City?
John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and too many ski videos motivated me to move to the Rockies. I headed out to Steamboat Springs to train with the team and be part of the West. We came to Park City leading up to the 2002 Games.
Your sport is under the radar—what motivated you?
I was never in it for celebrity. It was just a sport that I loved. I wanted to be as good as I could be and, ultimately, the best. Most of all, I wanted to elevate the sport with my teammates. We achieved success like nothing we imagined. After retiring, I wanted to take that momentum to build a sustainable future, to make sure the next generation of athletes had the same opportunity I did to win at the Olympics.
Is that your vision for USA Nordic?
I’ve been lucky in building USA Nordic. It’s a new model for sport and especially sport leadership: small, focused groups of alumni building organizations and resources—as athletes, for athletes.
How do you feel about another Olympic bid for Utah?
It’s unacceptable that the Olympic movement is not making more of a bid for sustainability. The venues in Utah
are ready to go with minimal investment—viable and vibrant. Utah has invested in youth programs and educated the public. Everything is ready to go. A Games here again could capitalize a fund that could dramatically change youth sport in America.
You came here to train but stayed to raise a family. What continues to attract you?
Park City has done a great job in looking at the long-term plan for the community. What sold me was the investment in trails for residents and tourists alike. No other community has the amount of groomed trails we have here. Park City is the perfect incubator for Nordic skiing.
You grew up outdoors in the Adirondacks. How important is that for your kids today?
The outdoors is core to my life. It’s hard when I leave Park City to see kids who don’t really know what it’s like to be in nature. Here we’re so integrated. We’re spoiled, actually.
Billy Demong's Local Picks
Best Classic Skiing
The Farm at White Pine—great terrain, nice cat-set track
Best Skate Trail
Full lap at Round Valley—iconic trail, maybe 25 km. I used to go out and do two laps with my dog, Scout. She’s fitter than I am!
Favorite Special Occasion Dinner
Wherever we can find a two-for-one. We’re Ghidotti’s Thursday night people.
Shoyu in Kimball Junction
Chubasco, mostly because of the salsa bar. I like steak smothered in a combo of mango habanero salsa mixed with chipotle.
Best Alpine Run
Sultan at Mayflower, Deer Valley
Best Backcountry Run
Powder or Groomers
Powder, of course
No. Jonny Moseley tried to give me a lesson last year. I learned to jump off the first then skip over the next three. That worked better for me.