A thletes perched atop the ski jump scaffolding on a clear day at Norge Ski Club can behold the distant splendor of the Chicago skyline.
Norge president Scott Smith eagerly extolls the views as “unbelievable,” and rightly so. Still, club officials argue the sights are no less breathtaking from the bottom of the hill.
Spectators will see for themselves on Jan. 21 and 22, when Norge hosts its 112th annual Winter Ski Jump Tournament at its facility at 100Ski Hill Road in Fox River Grove.
“It’s unusual to have an international Olympic sport pretty much in your backyard,” Norge corresponding secretary Gene Brown says. “I think for a lot of people in the Chicago area, it gives them a rare opportunity to see what’s available. It’s a festival-like atmosphere.”
Tickets cost $10 in advance and $15 at the gate, and they are good for both days of competition. Concessions, pop and various alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
Smith, a Cary resident since the late 1960s, is approaching his 30th year in coaching. He says the athletes haven’t been the only entity associated with soaring in recent years. Tournament attendance continues to climb, and could approach a two-day total of 10,000 this month.
“I don’t know if it’s getting a little more popular … or people [are] spreading the word, but we’ve noticed that it’s been a little bigger,” Smith says. “Whenever I talk to people, they always think [the event is] so neat. That’s always been that way.”
Ski jumping lends itself to enthusiasm, both from the athletes, who revel in their temporary ability to fly, and the fans, who await the jumpers’ landings.
As with past tournaments, spectators also can witness the skills of international jumpers. As of press time, Smith says that teams from Finland and Norway would be part of the tournament, and Slovenia was finalizing its participation. A Russian contingent may descend upon Fox River Grove, too.
All the better for a rowdy crowd at full throttle at Norge, where fans are arranged at the bottom of the hill in a bowl setting.
“They’re very close to the action, and so it’s hard not to know when [skiers are] coming down,” Brown says. “I know that I work up in the judges’ tower, and to hear 3 or 4,000 people applauding and reacting to a good jump, it’s really kind of spine-tingling in some ways.”
Smith can attest to the thrills from multiple perspectives. Before he became a coach and club official, he excelled as a jumper, nearly qualifying for Team USA at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Smith began training at Norge at age 7, shortly after his family relocated to Cary from Michigan.
“Well, I was kind of a gutsy kid, and I tried it and I loved it – going off the jump and flying, you know,” says Smith. “And then as you progress and go off bigger hills and start to fly even more, it’s even more fun. Just the flying part of it, you know, kept me going. That’s pretty much all it is with everybody.”
IF YOU GO
Winter Ski Jump Tournament
When: Saturday, Jan. 21, and Sunday, Jan. 22
Where: Norge Ski Club 100 Ski Hill Road, Fox River Grove