RUMFORD — The summer of 2013 was one of high anxiety for Katie Collette and Sarah Klein.
The Mountain Valley students were among those shocked by a June announcement that Black Mountain was closing. Both had become championship-caliber Alpine skiers training and competing on their home mountain and had hoped to prepare for the 2014 season there.
When ownership of the ski resort was transferred and it re-opened a month later, Collette and Klein breathed a sigh of relief and went back to work.
Now, they’re on the verge of seeing how far all that work has taken them.
Collette, a senior, is the defending Class C champion in the giant slalom. Klein, now a junior, finished second, and missed the state slalom title by .06 of a second last year at Big Rock in Mars Hill.
“I think last year was when they both really made the big jump,” first-year Mountain Valley coach Nate Nicols said. “They were both on the Eastern High School Championships team last year. They’ve both worked very hard.”
Nicols has a unique perspective on the high school careers of Collette and Klein. A 2012 Mountain Valley graduate, he was their teammate first. Now, two years after he won a state boys’ giant slalom title, he is trying to help Collette win her second GS championship, Klein win her first and the Falcons win their first team Alpine title.
Having a former teammate as a coach took some getting used to, but Collette and Klein said they’ve benefitted from Nicols’ fresh knowledge of their styles and competing at the high school level.
“At first, it was kind of weird. He may seem kind of young for it but he’s very mature and will help us when we need it,” Klein said.
“It’s actually really cool because most of us have seen him ski and we know how really good he is,” Collette said. “We all have a lot of respect for him and want to learn as much as we can from him.”
Over the last couple of years, Collette has taken a virtual, though thankfully not literal, crash course on skiing to become more confident on the slopes. Even though she’s been skiing most of her life, training in Black Mountain’s ski program has provided invaluable racing experience.
“I just want to get better,” said Collette. “I’ve seen improvement and I like where it’s going. It’s progressively getting better.”
“Training as much as I do, I feel a lot better about my skiing,” she added. “(Winning the Class C GS title) made me feel like my work paid off.”
Recent results show the payoff is continuing. Last week, she won the GS race at Black Mountain and finished second in a slalom race at Titcomb Mountain.
“Tactically, she’s a very smart skier. She’s not afraid to stand on a downhill ski,” Nicols said. “She’s patient. Sometimes that’s hard to get in high school skiing.”
Nicols said Collette is skiing with a sense of urgency now that the season is winding down. The schedule calls for two more races at Titcomb and Black this week before the Mountain Valley Conference championships start next Tuesday.
“She’s got, what, four weeks left. It’s kind of reality now. It’s going to come to an end here pretty soon, so she wants to make the most out of it while she’s here,” Nicols said. “She just needs to have that same intensity and confidence that she’s had all season.”
Klein has been nipping right at Collette’s heels all season, finishing second in the GS and third in the slalom last week. But there isn’t a rivalry brewing between the two close friends.
“We give each other advice on what we can do to get better,” said Klein, who beat out Collette for the MVC slalom title last year. “I’m hoping Katie and I will get one and two in the states this year.”
Klein is using last year’s state slalom result as motivation this year. During the off-season, her mother, Linda, bought her a new pair of skis, and she joined the Black Mountain program.
Klein has been skiing since she was two and racing since she was in the seventh grade, but knows sharpening her technique could make up that .06 she lost last year.
“I wanted to make my line better going around the gates,” Klein said. “Getting more time on the slopes is definitely a big help there.”
“She gets the edge angles,” Nicols said. “She’s got quick feet and good balance. She’s not afraid to send them. No fear.”
Collette and Klein can be even more fearless out of the gate this year. The Falcons have a deeper team this year to challenge for the team title after finishing runner-up to Forth Kent in Class C last year.
“We have an extra girl this year, so we won’t be too dependent on just four girls and we don’t have to worry about if one girls falls,” Klein said. “We’d really like to finish first.”