REGIONAL— For Erin Bianco, the path to a spot on the U.S. Nordic ski team was not without its detours. The 25-year-old Bianco, who grew up in Ely, the daughter of Joe and Mary Bianco, clearly …
REGIONAL— For Erin Bianco, the path to a spot on the U.S. Nordic ski team was not without its detours. The 25-year-old Bianco, who grew up in Ely, the daughter of Joe and Mary Bianco, clearly had the athletic ability to compete at the highest level even in high school. Yet, coming to grips with her talent and its potential ramifications took a bit of soul-searching.
In 2017, when she led the Ely Nordic ski team to a state high school girls championship and won the individual state crown, it clearly caught her by surprise. She said at the time that she had hoped to finish in the top ten.
For Bianco, competition wasn’t what first brought her to Nordic skiing and she said that fact has helped her maintain an even keel as the level of her competition has now reached the highest echelons of the sport. It was her parents who introduced her to cross-country skiing at the age of just three, simply as an enjoyable way to stay fit and to explore the forests around Ely in winter. Surprisingly, Bianco acknowledged in a 2023 blog post that she didn’t like being out in the cold on their regular Youth Ski League outings on Sundays at Hidden Valley, but she toughed it out mostly for the good snacks that came afterward.
For top athletes in highly competitive sports, burnout is a real risk, but Bianco said her initial low-stress introduction to skiing gave her a different mindset than many. “Growing up with that view of skiing, rather than being super competitive about it, just made it more enjoyable,” she said. “It gave me a good grounding.”
Despite her success at the high school level, Bianco still wasn’t sure that competitive skiing was in her future. “I never really thought that I would pursue it,” said Bianco. Instead, she opted to attend St. Olaf, in Northfield, where she ran long distance races for a year. “The break was good for me,” said Bianco. “It made me realize I really liked skiing, not just that I was good at it.”
That’s when she made the decision to follow in her older sister Amy’s footsteps by attending Colby College, in Maine. Amy had been a standout Nordic skier for the Mules from 2014 to 2017, so expectations were high when Erin showed up to begin her own ski career at the small liberal arts college in Waterville.
“College skiing was definitely some of my favorite years of ski racing,” Bianco wrote in her recent post. “I developed a lot as a skier and as a person.”
It was only after she graduated from Colby in 2022 with a degree in Sociology and an impressive collegiate record under her belt, that Bianco finally decided that she wanted to pursue Nordic at the next level. She went pro later that year, skiing with pro-circuit teams in Minnesota and Montana and recently qualified for the World Cup circuit based on her performance in a 1.5 km sprint competition in Utah.
She spent two weeks last month competing for the U.S. in World Cup events in Germany and most recently in Goms, Switzerland. She’s now back home in Bozeman, Mont., where she moved last June, training for upcoming World Cup events. She’s on an intensive 700-hour annual training regimen that begins in May and ends in March each year, leaving April as her only month off. When she’s not training or traveling for her racing events, Bianco works as a recruiter for a Bozeman-based consulting firm.
While the World Cup events typically take place in Europe, the tour is coming to North America this year for the first time in several years. Bianco will be in Canmore, Alberta, this weekend for World Cup events planned there and she’ll be back in Minnesota later in the month for the World Cup event set for Feb. 17 and 18 at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Snow-making equipment should allow for the race to take place despite the record warm and largely snowless conditions this winter.
Bianco hopes to be back in the Midwest later this month to take part in the 50th annual Birkebeiner in Cable, Wis. While the lack of snow has led to the cancellation of cross-country skiing events around the region this winter, the Birkebeiner is expected to be run regardless of snowfall thanks to the purchase of snowmaking equipment.
Bianco’s success has taken her parents Joe and Mary in some unexpected directions. The couple was in Goms last month to cheer Erin on in the World Cup races held there and Joe said it was the first time that World Cup skiing had ever been on his radar. “It was an amazing experience,” said Joe, who was stunned at the size and enthusiasm of the crowds. “It was a huge sporting event,” he said, one that rivaled the crowd size and enthusiasm of a major professional football or baseball game in the U.S.
And the setting, high in the Alps? “Goms was just beautiful,” said Joe. “It was like cross country skiing heaven, with about 100 kilometers of perfectly groomed trails, with hundreds of people of all ages skiing all day.”
Joe, who spoke to the Timberjay on Tuesday of this week, was on his way to Minneapolis to meet Mary for their flight to Canmore, where Erin is scheduled to take part in four races this weekend.
Erin said she’s excited to be able to race at the World Cup level in the U.S. for the first time, which should allow more of her family to attend.
Of course, having grown up in a small town, the sense of family can be a bit broader. Bianco said she regularly receives messages from Ely residents wishing her well. “It’s nice getting all these messages from Ely,” she said. “It’s nice to know that’s where it all started. I think being from a small town makes it all extra special.”
Joe agreed, and said he was incredibly thankful for all the support that Nordic skiing receives from the Ely community and said Erin is well aware that her success is a collective effort of so many people who helped her along the way.
And the path ahead? With the winter Olympics set for February 2026 in Italy, Erin will definitely be in the hunt for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. “I think that’s something that she now has a shot at,” said Joe, although he tempers his expectations with the recognition that the U.S. womens ski team is currently flush with remarkable talent and is competing well against some of the European Nordic powerhouses. “Seeing my daughter even being a part of that mix is sort of surreal,” said Joe. “I’m very proud of how hard she’s worked.”
He notes that Erin has continued to get faster every year and, now in her mid-20s, she could have several more years to achieve her peak performance. “She seems really focused right now and she wants to keep striving forward,” Joe added. “We support her either way.”