'As close as you can get to flying': Norge Ski Club hosts 118th annual ski jump in Fox River Grove

Warmer than normal temperatures couldn't stop Norge Ski Club's 118th annual ski jump Saturday in Fox River Grove.

The jump, originally scheduled for the last weekend in January, was rescheduled to Saturday and Sunday due to an unseasonably warm January. It is only the second time in the club's 118-year history the ski jump has had to be rescheduled. The other time was in 2017.

Although weekend temperatures hovered in the 30s and 40s with a bright shining sun, crews spent the last week running snow guns to cover the hills with snow and prep the jumps.

“It's a blast,” said Adeline Swanson, a 17-year-old who traveled from St. Paul, Minnesota to compete for her seventh year at Norge. “It's as close as you can get to flying ... so why not.”

The annual two-day event draws thousands to tiny Fox River Grove in northwestern Lake County. Spectators stand at the bottom of the hill, ringing cowbells, sounding air horns and cheering as jumpers soar through the air.

“It's a unique sport that they get to see once a year,” said Scott Smith, Norge Ski Club president. He anticipated the weekend's warmer, sunny weather would help draw out spectators.

In all, 85 jumpers, ages 5 to 44, competed with younger jumpers starting out on the 5-meter jump and more experienced jumpers tackling the 70-meter jump.

“People ask if we're nervous,” said David Fuller, whose 21-year-old son Jacob began ski jumping seven years ago.

The McHenry man said he doesn't worry when he sees his son flying through the air on the 70-meter jump.

“He's well trained,” he said. “It is so much fun to watch him.”

Norge Ski Club trains skiers throughout the fall, using layers of plastic sheeting on the grass to help jumpers stick their landings. Beginners start out on the smaller jumps and work their way up.

“I try to pizza slice (at the end),” said Beckett St. Leger, referring to how he brings the tops of his skis together, forming a shape that looks like a pizza slice, once he lands to help him slow down.

The 7-year-old from Carpentersville started ski jumping at the age of 6.

“I took him skiing and he had a knack for it,” Beckett's father, Nick St. Leger said. A friend then recommended bringing his son to Norge Ski Club and since then, the sport has stuck for Beckett who says he enjoys the snow and jumping.

Seven-year-old twins Aryia and Emma Sault, of Cary, started jumping at the age of 4 and were competing in their third jump. Both were tackling the 5- and 10-meter jumps.

“They like to go faster and higher,” the girls' mother, Stacey Sault, said. The twins said they hope to one day compete in the Olympics together.

Fox River Grove native Sandra Sproch, 15, recently competed in the Junior World Champions in Whistler, Canada with Swanson.

“It's just fun to fly,” said Sproch, who got her start at Norge when she was 6 years old.

Sproch and Swanson both hope to make it on the Olympic team for 2026. Their team took sixth place at the World Championships.

The club, which was founded in 1905, saw the first of its members head to the Olympics in 2018, when three of the four Team USA members hailed from Norge. All three were inducted into the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame. Olympian Patrick Gasienica, 24, competed in the senior category this weekend along with Fuller and three others.

“It's fun for them to say they've jumped with an Olympian,” Fuller's mother, Tracie, said, adding that the group in the seniors category has been competing together for some time. “They're all good friends and jump different hills together.”

The ski jump continues from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

  Norge's Benjamin McWilliams jumps during the U8 small hills competition Saturday during opening day of the Norge Ski Club's 118th annual Winter Ski Jump Tournament. Joe Lewnard/
  Kate Lacasse of Algonquin gives a thumbs-up after her son, Grey, made his jump during the K5 small hills competition on opening day of the Norge Ski Club's 118th annual Winter Ski Jump Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
  Chasity Kiesgen of Spring Grove watches competitors during opening day of the Norge Ski Club's 118th annual Winter Ski Jump Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
  Spectators watch competitors during opening day of the Norge Ski Club's 118th annual Winter Ski Jump Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard/
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