To Jodd Bowles, it's not the size of the mountain a young skier trains on that counts, it's natural ability and desire that make a great ski racer.
"How can you explain that Olympic and World Cup skiers got their start and trained here at a little mountain like Lost Valley?" Bowles asked after this past weekend's Maine Ski Challenge at the Auburn ski area.
It's one of the reasons former ski legend Julie Pariesien and coaches Matt Waddle, Dave Bell and Jennifer Kennedy-Zanca come back to Lost Valley to help train and motivate young skiers.
"I don't have the medals like them, but we all come back to help the kids for the same reason. There is no better feeling than to see a young kid with talent and the desire go on to do great things in the sport.
"Bump Heldman is a great example. He started here in Auburn and then got to watch him ski on the heels of Bode Miller and Ted Ligety, two of the greatest American skiers of all time, a few years ago at Sugarloaf in a World Cup race."
Bowles got hooked on skiing when he was a teenager growing up in New Hampshire. He would spend the summers at Abenaki Ski Area in New Hampshire where his father gave lessons and his uncle was the director.
"We would spend all summer clearing brush and cutting trees with an old deuce-and-a-half truck. When we were done, my uncle drove it to the top, took off the wheels and used it to run the rope tow. That was some serious Yankee ingenuity."
At Green Mountain College, he had his sights set on becoming a professional skier.
"I was just as delusional as everyone else at that time, but I eventually realized I did not have the talent to make it as a professional racer."
It was about that time he decided to get a degree in therapeutic recreation. He started working with adults with serious behavioral issues with brain injuries. At High Watch, the leading center in the world dealing with brain trauma at the time, Bowles thought he could work his way up in this field.
After three years, he was involved in two separate incidents that left him with a broken neck and broken back. He came back to Freeport to recuperate at his fiancee's house.
While looking out the window watching some of the biggest snowstorms in years, he got the itch to ski again. "I figured I'd have to work at a ski area in order to afford to ski again."
He got in touch with Scott Williams at Lost Valley and offered to "do anything." He was told that there were no full-time positions available, but he could work with the junior racers part time.
Within a few years, Bowles was coaching at Hebron and running the race program at Lost Valley, where he is currently the director of racing.
"I have worked World Cup events, the Olympics, U.S. Nationals, NORAM Nationals and other high-profile races. But just as thrilling as it is to watch the top racers in the world, I mostly enjoy watching a young kid make it down through the gates for the first time here at Lost Valley. The look on their faces and sense of accomplishment is really rewarding."
Bowles said that many of the local programs would not be possible without help from the Auburn Ski Association. Since its formation in the 1960s, the association has helped fund local schools, lessons and special programs and has donated equipment.
"It's amazing that even after their kids have grown up and moved away, many of the volunteers still donate their time and money. It goes to show how strong the ski community is here. I am just happy to be part of it."