Flying from flatlands to Pyeongchang 2018

Three Illinois ski jumpers land on Team USA

Ski Club Norge Team USA 2018

Photo: Meg Larson
On the Olympic Trials podium at Park City, Utah. Left to right: second place is Will Rhoads of Park City; first place is Michael Glasder of Fox River Grove, Ill; third place is Kevin Bickner of Lake Forest, Ill.

Nancy Andersen

Can you imagine that some of the United States’ best ski jumpers come from the “flatlands” of northern Illinois?

Michael Glasder, 28, of Norge Ski Club in tiny Fox River Grove, Ill., was the first to win a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team when he won the U.S. Olympic trials in Park City, Utah, at the New Year. Not only that, four of the six young men on the U.S. ski-jumping team training for the Olympics—and three out of the four chosen to go—have come from one club. The club is not in the mountains of Colorado or Utah, or even Lake Placid, N.Y., but Norge, northwest of Chicago.

Norge’s Kevin Bickner holds the U.S. distance record of 244.5 meters and will lead the team going to Pyeongchang, Korea. On the World Cup tour in 2017, Bickner had the strongest season of any U.S. man in more than a decade. Bickner and Glasder will be joined by Will Rhoads of Park City, Utah, and Norge’s Casey Larson. Norge’s A.J. Brown will continue competing internationally to earn more points for future World Cup competition.

As reported in the Fox Valley Daily Herald, “Michael Glasder doesn’t quite remember the first time he went ski jumping at Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove, but the story goes something like this:

“His parents wanted to keep the 5-year-old busy during the winter months, so they took a short drive from their Cary home to Norge, a club founded in 1905 by Norwegian immigrants living in Chicago.

“Glasder’s determination was evident almost immediately. When his parents told him it was time for a lunch break, he refused to stop. ‘I’m going to stay out here until I get it right,’ he said.

“Two decades later, Glasder credits that attitude with helping him become Norge’s first Olympian. … ‘That’s stuck with me my whole career,’ Glasder said of his youthful determination. ‘Head down, keep working and make it happen.’”

Michael Glasder’s determination has propelled him past missing the cut for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics to his current success as the first Illinois resident to make the U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping Team.

Norge’s remarkable success is built on good coaching, great support from the club, and their ski jump. Norge’s coach for 30 years is Scott Smith, coach of the 1992 U.S. Olympic squad and a member of the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame. He credits much of their current success to their $1 purchase in 2004 of a 72-meter ski jump from the city of Ely, Minn. They had to transport the ski jump to Norge’s location and build a suitable support for the towering structure, but it allows jumpers to train and compete on regulation Olympic heights and distances. There are also several smaller ski jumps that allow beginners to learn the skills.

Norge Ski Club’s future also looks good, with a strong junior team. USA Nordic National Team members Casey Larson, 19; Patrick Gasienica, 19; and Hunter Gibson, 16, were to go to Kandersteg, Switzerland, Jan. 27 through Feb. 4 as part of the five-member U.S. men’s ski jumping team to take part in the Junior World Championships. Cara Larson, 17, also went as part of the women’s team.

Most Americans would be surprised to find out that Norge Ski Club, built on an unusual bowl-shaped glacial land formation on the banks of the Fox River, is home to the longest continuously running ski competition in North America. Their 113th International Winter Tournament was held on Jan. 27 and 28. Their popularity continues to grow, and last year more than 5,000 people came out to watch jumpers from Norway, Finland, Slovenia, and the United States. Their motto is, “Fly far, dream big.” It’s clear from these results that they are doing both.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.