The best skiers in the country are coming back to Maine next winter.

One year after Sugarloaf hosted the U.S. Alpine Championships, the sport’s governing body announced that the event would return to the mountain in 2008.

“We had exceptional championships in 2006,” said Calum Clark, vice president of events for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “They showed the true passion and energy for alpine racing and we’re so glad to be returning to Sugarloaf,” he added in a statement. “The crowds were so knowledgeable and appreciative. It’s a great mountain and the enthusiasm of the fans was off the charts.”

Auburn native and Gould Academy graduate Bump Heldman is equally excited. This winter will mark his third year of participation in the event.

“It’s exciting that they were brought back to Sugarloaf,” Heldman said. “It shows that Sugarloaf has one of the top mountains in the U.S., and they’re willing to fight to bring it back. To have it back in two years is pretty good.”

Part of the reason the event returned so quickly is because of the wealth of support it received the last time it was here.

“Sugarloaf has been a great host for us and has a strong history of outstanding races,” U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt said. “Sugarloaf gives us a great welcome, there’s so much enthusiasm – from the mountain and the community – and the venues are challenging, so it’s a great package. We, meaning the staff as well as the athletes, look forward to going back there for more exciting races and fun times with great crowds, who appreciate the racing.”

This year, in Alaska, Heldman said the one thing missing was the crowd support he felt at Sugarloaf.

“Last year at Alaska, it was very good, it was a great mountain, but I didn’t think they compared to the job that Sugarloaf did when they had them (in 2006),” Heldman said. “Not necessarily as far as the mountain, but as far as the people watching at Sugarloaf, and as far as the off-snow things that happened.”

Heldman finished his studies at Gould Academy this spring, and has been accepted at Bates College of Lewiston. He has chosen to defer his enrollment at Bates for one season, in order to race with the U.S. Ski Team.

“I’m taking a year off,” Heldman said. “I made the U.S. Development Team, and it will be a year to devote myself to the U.S. Ski Team without the factor of school. That was the hard part (last year), so this year I’ll try it without the school part.”

Some of the best skiers in the world are expected to return to Sugarloaf next winter to take part in the racing, including Olympic champions Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso, world championship double-medalist Lindsey Kildow and up-and-coming racer Steven Nyman.

“The entire Sugarloaf community is thrilled to once again welcome America’s best to Sugarloaf as they compete for the national championships,” Sugarloaf president John Diller said. “Sugarloaf’s proud racing heritage and unequaled commitment from Sugarloafers of all ages will no doubt make the championships a highlight of the 2008 winter season.”

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