FOX RIVER GROVE – Despite an unprecedented postponement and unseasonably warm weather, the Norge Ski Club kicked off its 112th annual International Winter Tournament on Saturday.
Hundreds gathered to watch the first day of the tournament, originally slated to take place in January but postponed because of uncooperative weather. On Saturday, about 35 junior ski jumpers competed, and about the same number will compete in Sunday’s competition.
The youngest jumper to compete Saturday was 5 years old, and people of all ages and experience levels are scheduled to compete Sunday.
The National Weather Service predicted weather in the 40s for the weekend, which was a concern leading up to the event's festivities.
However, a round-the-clock crew made sure the hill was fully covered in snow, Norge Ski Club spokesman Charlie Sedivec said.
“We started putting the snow down this week. I credit the success of today to the hill crew. They were out here 24 hours a day for three days,” he said. “Our club president, Scott Smith, was out here more than anybody to make snow. A lot of nights he sleeps in the clubhouse. Without him, we would’ve had a tough time trying to hold the tournament.”
Even the decision to postpone the tournament had been a tough call, so there was no way the board was going to cancel the event completely, he added.
“It came together, and here we are,” he said.
The Norge Ski Club was founded in 1905 by a group of Norwegian men from Chicago. On Saturday, people gathered to tailgate, watch and compete in the ski jump games. The event has grown tremendously over the years, Sedivec said.
“This is an unbelievable turnout for a junior tournament,” he said. “I’d say we’re going to have maybe a thousand. We’re extremely pleased. Our entire parking lot is full, and this is maybe only 20 percent of what we will have [Sunday].”
It was 7-year-old Nika Pelletiere’s first competition Saturday, and she said she was nervous, but excited to hit the slope.
“I just really like skiing,” she said. “I like going down hills kinda fast and kinda slow – like at a medium pace. I think it’s fun.”
The North Barrington girl and her brother, Winn, 5, began the sport in October after two professional ski jumpers presented a clinic at Nika’s school, which sparked her interest.
“She likes skiing in general,” said Lisa Pelletiere, Nika’s mother. “We take her as much as we can.”
Skiing is a family affair for others as well.
The Gasienica family of Hickory Hills has been with the Norge Ski Club since the late 1980s. Albert Gasienica, a coach and ski jumper who will compete in the 2017 tournament, was there Saturday with his 18-year-old son, Patrick Gasienica, who recently competed in the Junior World Championship in Park City, Utah.
Albert Gasienica said it was important for him to get his son involved in the sport because of the good values it instills.
“It teaches a lot,” Albert Gasienica said. “Self-confidence, responsibility – they meet a lot of a people. Ski jumping is this tiny little sport, and those people are eventually going to be their friends for life.”