Introducing the United States' top-secret ski jumping factory

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USA’s Michael Glasder competes in the men’s normal hill individual ski jumping trial qualifying event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. (Getty Images)
USA’s Michael Glasder competes in the men’s normal hill individual ski jumping trial qualifying event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. (Getty Images)

The Norwegian ski club located in Fox River Grove, Ill., went from its meager days as a local spot for glogg-drinking, song-singing and general Norwegian shenanigans to a suburban powerhouse of Olympic ski jump training seemingly overnight.

If you find a person that can point out where Fox River Grove is on a map, then it’s a safe bet they’re a founding member of the Norge Ski Club. The “American Mecca” of ski jumping isn’t located in Colorado or Utah as you may think, rather it resides in suburban Illinois and has produced three of the four men’s Olympic ski jump team members for the 2018 Olympic Games.

Michael Glasder, Kevin Bickner and Casey Larson are the only three members of the Norge Ski Club with lifetime “gold” status after being named to the team competing in PyeongChang. Glasder is the elder of the group, making his first Olympic team at age 28. He grew up fishing and water-skiing on the Fox River in Cary, Ill., where the hilltop jumping tower at the club peaked out from behind trees.

His uncle John first took him to the hill when he was 5 years old, when he started practicing small jumps leading into much bigger jumps. The club was run on volunteers and parents coaching for several years until Glasder’s parents hired the club’s first coach, American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame member Scott Smith, who had learned at Norge himself as a child.

Larson, meanwhile, is the youngest of the bunch at just 19 years old. Hailing from Barrington, Ill., he began skiing at age 6 and also played lacrosse in high school. Bickner is 21 years old and calls Wauconda, Ill., his hometown, meaning all three are from within 20 or so miles of each other in suburban Chicago. He went to DeVry University and was named USSA Ski Jumping Athlete of the Year.

Parents of local kids with an interest in ski jumping have kept this club afloat for years, with the Norge club members getting experience jumping in front of big crowds at the club’s annual tournament, which still attracts thousands of spectators to watch the show and, of course, to party at the bottom of the hill.

This year will mark the 113th gathering at the Norge Club, but something tells me 2018 is a little more special for every person involved. Especially for the three Olympians and a family community in Fox River Grove, Illinois who dared to dream in terms of big air.

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