Sugarloaf favorite Sam Morse gets low on a left-footed turn.
CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Sam Morse chalks it up to the American Way.
Morse won gold in the downhill at the Junior World Ski Championships earlier this month in Sweden while also performing well in the super-G races with what he calls some of the most aggressive skiing of his life.
“Championship events, I think as Americans, we’re kind of bred to show up for the big game,” Morse said. “You know, you find it within yourself to push harder than you’ve ever pushed before.”
Morse’s successful month continued Saturday at the U.S. Alpine Championships at his home slope at Sugarloaf, when he finished fourth in the super-G.
“It was all right,” Morse said. “A lot of delays today, it was tough to mentally kind of stay in it, but I managed to put down a decent run. There’s definitely some areas I could have cleaned up, but I gave it all I had, so it’s fun to be up here.
The Junior Worlds gold kicked off a hectic travel period for Morse. It automatically qualified him for the World Cup finale in Aspen, Colorado, a few days later.
“Flew right to Aspen and did the first training run for my first World Cup (race) on like five hours of sleep,” Morse said.
From there, he went straight to Quebec for a few NorAm races, and then to Sugarloaf for NorAm finals in the days leading up to the U.S. Alpine Championships, which began Saturday and run through Tuesday.
“It’s been a whirlwind of travel,” Morse said. “Things came together really well over in Sweden. Just to ski your best at the championship race, you can’t ask for anything better.”
Morse has been on the United States’ C Team this season, but his automatic qualification to the World Cup final gave him a chance to race against the world’s best in downhill.
“I did come in last,” Morse said with a laugh. “But that’s OK. It’s kind of to be expected, because it was World Cup finals, so it’s just the best 25 in the world — a couple guys didn’t race so I ended up bring up the rear in 21st.
“But what’s more impressive about looking at result like that is how far you are off the winner, and I was only two seconds off the winner. So that was very good for me and where I’m at in my career.”
Morse, 20, brings his career back home to Sugarloaf — he grew up in Carrabassett Valley and attended Carrabassett Valley Academy — as a bit of a legend, for his skiing success and potential, but also for his personality.
“He is an exceptionally hard-working, dedicated young athlete,” said Kate Punderson, head of school at Carrabassett Valley Academy. “We have watched him develop throughout the years … all the while he has maintained his work ethic, his level-headed approach and his genuine kindness.”
U.S. Ski Team men’s coach Sasha Rearick lauded Morse for the similar reasons.
“I know Sam really well,” Rearick said. “He’s an unbelievable young man. He’s genuine, caring, hard-working, no entitlement — you know, many people feel entitled — there’s none of that with Sam.
“Extremely hard-working, genuine individual,” Rearick said.
Punderson said that Morse’s “genuine kindness” is manifested in how he looks out for his teammates.
“He often puts his teammates first, before himself,” Punderson said. “And he believes very strongly in the benefit of a really supportive team atmosphere.”
Morse credits his upbringing for his temperament.
“People take this sport awfully serious, and at the end of it, it’s just a game,” Morse said. “It just kind of lightens the mood and allows me to be more of a teammate, which is nice.
“You can fuel yourself off your teammates doing well. And it’s not all about you. Seeing them do well is good, too, whether you do well or not. And if it’s only about your success, then you’re only going to be happy when you do well — and that doesn’t happen that often, so you’re going to be pretty bummed out most of your life.”
While ski racing is an important part of Morse’s life, he also keeps it isn’t the only part.
Last year, he faced a bit of a dilemma. Actually, it wasn’t much of a dilemma — he seemed to know what he was going to do.
Morse graduated from Carrabassett Valley Academy in 2013. He later was accepted to Dartmouth (“Long before I made the U.S. Ski Team,” he said), but deferred two years in a row. He couldn’t defer again, so he went to school in the 2016 fall trimester.
That was a difficult decision from the U.S. Ski Team’s perspective, Rearick said.
But Morse was steadfast.
“I’m not willing to throw away an Ivy League education,” he said, “because there is life after skiing.”
The trouble with Morse’s 10-week stint at Dartmouth was that it forced him to miss valuable fall camps. And Morse, despite his success, needs training.
“I was concerned with his ability to really generate speed in the turn,” Rearick said. “That’s a real technical skill to have. And he wasn’t able to do that because he was lacking some specific fundamentals.”
To counteract his autumn in the halls of higher education, Morse was sent to work with the U.S. Ski Team’s university program. Because he’s not a full-time college student, Morse wasn’t on the team, but he trained with it during the summer.
Rearick and Morse agree that progress has clearly been made, but it isn’t complete.
“There’s just a tone in my skiing that I didn’t necessarily have before,” Morse said.
“There’s still tons of work to be done, but I’ve gotten a lot better.”
That progress was on display in Morse’s fifth-place finish in the super-G at Junior Worlds, and in his fourth-place super-G showing at the U.S. Alpine Championships. However, his focus isn’t on where he places.
“It’s really fun to just race and perform in front of a community that supported me since I was just a little guy,” Morse said. “People are always expecting big results and things like that, I just go out there like any other race and ski my best and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
“I want to ski my best, and wherever that places me, that places me.”