On March 27, members of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team and skiers aspiring to join that team will gather at Alyeska, Alaska, for the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships.

Other factions of the team will be scattered around the country. The U.S. Disabled Team will meet from March 20-25 at Waterville Valley, NH., the freestyle group will gather from March 22-25 at Killington, Vermont, the jumping and Nordic combined folks will congregate at Stemboat Springs, Colo. on March 24-25, and the U.S. Cross Country Team will be here in Maine, at Presque Isle.

While current team members will be traveling on the U.S. Ski Team’s dime, with plenty of coaching and support, those aspiring to make the team will be on their own, providing their own transportation, food and lodging.

Sam Sweetser of Cumberland is one aspiring alpine racer pursuing the dream.

Recently, his path hit a speed bump.

In a Super-G in British Columbia, he had to make a sharp turn onto a cat track. Holding a line that was a bit too straight, he hit poor snow, caught a ski and was thrown into the safety nets at full speed. The nets prevented serious injury, but the incredible torque (Super-G speeds can exceed 60 mph) did severe damage to his lower leg and ankle.

Sweetser tore ligaments surrounding his ankle, cracked the lower end of the tibia along with the top of the fibula, and sprained his MCL.

His hope is to be able to ski a week before the National Championships.

Why not take the rest of the season off, let the injury completely heal and look forward to another season?

It doesn’t work that way.

There are only so many spots on the U.S. Ski Team, and Sweetser’s point totals are right on the verge of qualifying. A podium finish at the U.S. Championships could make the difference.

Sweetser honed his skills at Sugarloaf during four years at CVA, graduating in 2003. He first skied at nationals six years ago, and the last time they were at Alyeska, he won the Junior National Downhill Title as the top finisher under 19.

Since graduation, he has been racing on the Nor-Am circuit and in FIS events against American and Canadian skiers with entries from other countries at some races.

This season he has raced in four downhill, three super G and five GS races.

Since Nov. 1, he has spent only two to three weeks in Park City, electing to travel the the rest of the time to various events at Sunday River, Lake Louise, and Panorama.

“Ski racing is a full time job”, Sweetser explained, “The only time off is a few weeks in April at the end of the season and then it’s back to training.”

What if he doesn’t make the team?

Naturally, no athlete wants to think of that outcome, but the window is small.

A ski racer has to stay healthy to age 22 or 23. Making the team will take care of the expenses, but not making it calls for a decision.

Sweetser has two years of college eligibility left.

“If I don’t make the team, I will attend the University of Utah and race,” Sweetser said. “In college I can still race Nor-ams and the Nationals and still have a shot at the team.”

But that’s not how the Maine ski racer is thinking.

Everything was aligned so once the cast was on the prognosis was good.

“As long as I can ski downhill at the Nationals, I can make the team,” Sweetser said. “I have confidence I can ski and take the next step.”

At the end of March, we’ll know how Sam Sweetser makes out.

He may or may not wind up on the U.S. Ski Team, but his is a story is a common thread up and down the list of prospects.

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