Soaring with the Norge Ski Club
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN January 19, 2014 7:44PM
Norge team member A.J. Brown in flight. | Photos by Kris Edlund
Updated: February 21, 2014 6:04AM
FOX RIVER GROVE — If the winter sun beams bright when the Norge Ski Club hosts its 109th annual ski jump tournament Jan. 25 and 26, you can’t blame those there who think the rays are symbolically shining a light on the organization.
Coach Scott Smith can tell you that three young men he has coached through the club’s training center and teams are finding success in the sport and competing internationally in ski jumping.
Kevin Bickner, 17, of Wauconda and A.J. Brown, 18, of Fox River Grove are in Europe right now as part of the U.S. junior national team and will be competing in Italy the weekend of the Norge event not far from the Fox River.
“It’s the first time we’ve had two of four spots on the junior national team. And we’re the farthest south ski jump club in the country,” Smith said.
While that’s impressive enough, Mike Glasder, 24, of Cary — who just missed making the U.S. Olympic ski jumping squad in 2010 — should officially know this week if he landed one of the spots on the team this time and will be heading to the Sochi games. Glasder has been in Japan for a tournament, Smith said, and the announcement of who will be on the team is set for Tuesday
“I’m very proud. He’s like a son to me,” Smith said of his bond with Glasder.
Smith said Glasder took up ski jumping with the Norge Ski Club at the age of 5. If it’s any indication of how far he has come, Glasder’s profile is up on the United States Olympic Committee’s Team USA website at www.teamusa.org/Athletes/GL/Mike-Glasder.
“Mike was a gutsy kid and not afraid to jump. As he got older, he got better and better, and by his early teens he was competing at a higher level,” Smith said. “He’s definitely a talented athlete, and there’s a lot of determination there, too.”
Smith explained that there was one automatic berth on the U.S. men’s team, which was earned by Nick Fairall of New Hampshire through winning the Olympic trials event in Utah in late December. The other three spots were determined by a point system based in part on how well athletes did in international competitions.
Smith said he has been keeping in touch with all three jumpers via email as they travel the world. Prior to the competition in Japan, Smith said he told Glasder “to keep doing what he was doing, that everything was in his hands.”
Smith, 51, of Cary has credentials of his own. He learned to jump at the age of 7 with the Norge Ski Club, was a member of the U.S. Ski Team in the 1980s, fell just short of making the American Olympic team in 1988, coached for this nation’s team at the 1992 games in Albertville, France, and was inducted into the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame in 2012. Smith also serves on the board of USA Ski Jumping (www.usaskijumping.org), which is working to develop the sport here in this country.
In the U.S. at least, ski jumpers may get equipment sponsors and room and board covered by event sponsors in Europe, but largely do their own fundraising to support themselves in their pursuits. Smith noted that the favorites to medal in men’s events at the Sochi Games will be from Austria, Poland, Germany and Slovenia, where the sport is more established and part of the culture.
Women’s ski jumping will be an Olympic event for the first time this year — albeit in just one category — and Smith said that U.S. and Canadian athletes are expected to do well in Russia. In fact, credit card company Visa has been a corporate sponsor of the American women’s ski jump team since 2006 and has built ad campaigns around its members. Still, according to the New York Times, the total corporate sponsorship for the women is only $251,000 a year.
Building the sport locally, Smith said the volunteer-run Norge Ski Club currently has more than three dozen young athletes — ages 5 to 18, with about a third of them female — training and competing at events across the country.
The Norge Ski Club’s biggest jump is a 70-meter hill that stands 160 feet tall. About nine years ago, Norge purchased that tower from the town of Ely, Minn., to replace its aging 60-meter jump. In 2011, the club also rebuilt its 10- and 20-meter jumps and has five total jumps; the setup is such that, since the late 1980s, the site can be used for jumping in summer.
One of those aspiring to heights achieved by Bickner, Brown, and Glasder is Casey Larson, 15, who also takes part in cross country and lacrosse at Barrington High School.
“I was teammates with Kevin and A.J. for a long time,” Larson said. “It’s pretty cool and exciting what they and Mike are doing. And I would love to be able to do that, to compete a couple times at that level would be great.”
Larson’s sister, Cara, 13, also takes part in ski jumping. And his father, Guy, oversees the Nordic Combine training program for the Norge Ski Club.
Larson has been ski jumping for nine years and has finished as high as fifth at the nationals a few years ago when they were held in Connecticut. Later this season, he will be heading to Anchorage — the first place he competed in nationals, when he was just 10 years old.
As for the appeal of the sport, “It’s the flying part, for sure,” Larson said. “We all like the adrenaline rush ski jumping gives us. We’re addicted to the sport.”
For those wanting to see for themselves, Smith said this year’s tournament in Fox River Grove is part of a 2½-week touring tournament coordinated by five Midwestern ski jump clubs. Athletes from Canada and several European nations are taking part, too.
The Norge Ski Club, 100 Ski Hill Road, Fox River Grove, was founded in 1905 by Norwegian immigrants and is one of the oldest continuously operated ski club’s in the country.
The tournament Saturday, Jan. 25, features junior-level competitions, while Sunday, Jan. 26, offers advance jumpers taking off from the highest hill. The events run from noon to 4 p.m. both days, with gates opening at 11 a.m.
Tickets for $11 may be purchased online at www.norgeskiclub.com through Friday, Jan. 24. Tickets at the gate are $15. More information is available at 847-639-9718.