“Just $10 for the button”, the friendly Sideouts bar server explained. “That covers both days Tournament admission, and the bus ride there and back… kids under 12 get in free… and we serve you free chili afterwards on Sunday!”

She had me at “free chili”… but the rest turned out to be a one-of-a-kind adventure.

Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove has been holding its International Winter Ski Jump Tournament for over a century (113 years to be exact).  This year’s event had more than a touch of added interest: for the first time ever, a Norge skier had made the Olympics, and not just one, but three: Mike Glasder of Cary, Casey Larson of Barrington, and Kevin Bicker of Wauconda. Note: Bickner finished 18th in the normal hill individual event (the best finish by an individual U.S. men’s ski jumper in 16 years), and later led the U.S. team to its 9th place finish in the Team Long Hill jump, nailing down the U.S. team’s best result in its history (since 1924).

Clambering up the last hill past the entrance Sunday using my folding chair and camera tripod as makeshift ski-poles, I staked out a patch of snow with a view and settled in, surrounded by brave souls in Viking-inspired garb, blowing on plastic Gjallarhorns and sipping beverages from plastic cups, in various combinations of singles, pairs, and families. Concession areas sold brews and had brew-skis with Jägermeister shots at the ready, along with plenty of brats, hot dogs, pizza and popcorn.

After the first couple hours of competition I migrated down to the base of the hill where many in the crowd gathered to watch the skiers whoosh by after landing, buy drinks to keep warm (or to numb the chill), and huddle around any one of the many bonfires built right on the icy grass.

The ski jumping was outstanding, as each jumper suddenly and dramatically soared over the peak of the ramp, competing in several different classes and age groups. Several jumpers sailed past the 70-meter mark during regular competition.  Each jumper was graded on both distance and style for their two official jumps, with the combined score establishing their rankings. (Full results are available online at NorgeSkiClub.com). As the last event, the longest standing jump, skiers could take off from anywhere, picking whatever gate height they were willing to risk. Upping the ante by two gates was Nik Fabijan of Team Slovenia, who flew down the hill and played the headwind perfectly, soaring 82 meters to take home an envelope of a few hundred dollars cash donated during the tournament for the longest standing jump winner.

After shuttling back to Sideout’s in Island Lake and warming to a second bowl of delicious chili, I considered what a remarkable entertainment value the Norge Winter Tournament is.  I’d easily give it a Neilson Rating of:  “Two Skis Up!”

For more information about the Norge Ski Club and for full tournament results, visit NorgeSkiClub.com.