Norge Ski Club: Flying High

Travel Midwest

They called it the "Most Dangerous Sporting Event Ever held at Soldier Field, and even though it happened in 1954 the claim still rings true. The Norge Ski Club (pronounced "nor as in north and "ge as in geese) had constructed a 184-foot ski jump that towered over the stands at the stadium that's still home to the Chicago Bears. The ramp was packed with crushed ice, and jumpers from all over the world soared over the stadium's famous colonnade pillars and onto the center of the field.

These days the club's tournaments are in a less dramatic setting, but the competitors are no less enthusiastic. The Midwest is a ski jumping hotbed, with 15 jumping clubs throughout Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois—more than the West and East combined. But the Norge Ski Club, now located 35 miles west of Chicago, is undeniably the elder statesman of the group.

Founded by Norwegians in 1905, Norge is the oldest continuously operated ski club in North America. "Some clubs have been around as long as Norge, but they've all closed for a period of time, says club corresponding secretary Mary Jo Schauer. "Not only has Norge been operating for 99 straight years, but not once have we cancelled our winter tournament.

Steeped in rich history, the Norge Ski Club sits on 60 acres of hilly terrain overlooking the Fox River. While some of the original cabins that housed jumpers in the early days still exist, a sparkling new 4,500-square-foot clubhouse now services 120 jumpers, the largest membership in the club's history. With a fieldstone fireplace and a deck overlooking the jumps, the clubhouse is a hub of social activity.

But make no mistake: This is not your typical ski club. Norge is strictly a ski-jumping club, and the members take their hobby very seriously. The club's five jumps range from five meters to 70 meters. The 70-meter structure was purchased last spring from a defunct ski area in Ely, Minn. It's so tall that jumpers can see the Chicago skyline from the top, and their downward flights have been known to vault them distances of up to 225 feet.

Scott Smith is Norge's coach, a former U.S. Ski Team member and the coach of the U.S. jumpers at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. "Our ultimate goal is to get our jumpers to higher levels of competition, onto the Central Elite Team and then to one of the U.S. teams, he declares. To that end, Norge's teams train year-round and travel all over the country for tournaments—Lake Placid, N.Y., Park City, Utah, Steamboat, Colo. Seven Norge skiers competed in the Junior Olympics in 2002, and Smith was named Domestic Coach of the Year for 2001—2002 by the USSA. "A lot of our focus is on our advanced team comprised of 13- to 17-year-olds, he says. "But our tournaments involve everyone from little kids just starting out all the way up to a Masters division. We all have a lot of fun together: The big January tournament is open to the public and routinely draws upward of 5,000 spectators.

Norge is still expanding. The Norge Ski Training Center was recently developed as a nonprofit organization separate from the ski club. "We're hoping this will provide individual and corporate sponsors with a means of bolstering our ski jumpers with tax-deductible support, Smith says. With its 100th anniversary looming in 2005, the club is flying high and looking to the future.

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