FOX RIVER GROVE – For the next five weeks, three girls from Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove are heading west to get a glimpse of what their ski jumping futures may hold.
Mollie Immens of Fox River Grove, Cara Larson of Barrington and Kailey Bickner of Wauconda are three of eight girls nationwide who were selected to attend a Fly Girls Team and camp training program taking place in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Park City, Utah.
This experience is part of Women’s Ski Jumping USA’s new nationwide athlete development program, where some of the top youth skiers around the country will train with U.S. Olympic ski jumping coach Alan Alborn, world champion ski jumper Lindsey Van and other top U.S. skiers.
For eight years, Larson, Bickner and Immens have skied together at Norge, hoping that someday they will have the chance to become jumpers for the national team.
Larson, 13, said Van has served as a great role model for all three girls. Van fought for years trying to get women’s ski jumping included in the winter Olympics, until it finally was added in 2014.
“They’re the ones that got women into the Olympics for ski jumping,” Larson said. “I look up to them so much because they made it possible for us.”
The girls’ jump coach of five years, Scott Smith, who also is a U.S. ski team board member, said the girls have spent roughly four to five days and 10 to 15 hours on the slopes each week, perfecting their launch techniques in order to improve speed and flying distance.
“Now that they’re getting older, [the time commitment] is quite a bit more,” Smith said. “These girls are to the point where it’s now time to step up to that next level. The U.S. team is bringing girls up that are a part of the future, so they have a lot of work to do, but they are very talented.”
Larson and Immens, 14, recently finished first and second, respectively, at the National Junior Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. Bickner, 13, has won two Virtual U.S. Cups
in the Central U14 girls division, where competitors send in videos of their jumps to get their scores. Smith estimates they enter about 20 competitions a year.
During the summer, instead of landing on a soft, white slope of snow, the girls zip down the 160-foot pitch on mesh-like green matting, giving skiers the same feeling as snow.
“In the summer, [the ramp] is a lot smoother,” Larson said. “The only big difference is the feeling. There’s more pressure on the lift.”
Although there won’t be any snow on the ground for several months, Larson said they still train the same as if there was snow. Bickner trains on both the 40-meter and 70-meter ramps, while Larson and Immens stick to the 70.
“My favorite part of jumping is flying through the air and the adrenaline rush you get,” Bickner said.
“I love the feeling of flying,” Immens added. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”
The girls will train in Steamboat Springs for a little more than a week before heading to Park City, where they will use their newly learned skills in competition. Smith believes this opportunity can be a valuable learning experience.
“I think the biggest thing would be gaining the confidence to do better,” Smith said. “When the girls develop a little slower with their technique than the guys, the more they can be around the jumps and camps, they should gain more confidence.”