Tim LaVallee is a former four-year standout and two-year captain of the Plymouth State University ski team. He’s enjoyed a distinguished coaching career in ski racing, having been successful at the high school level in Bethel and at Oxford Hills, at the college level at the University of Colorado and Bates College, at the prep school level at Gould Academy, and at the national level with the United States Ski Team.

He was ready to relax and enjoy some quality time on the slopes on his own.

*****

Julie Parisien is perhaps Central Maine’s best-known skier of the past 25 years. Having grown up honing her skills on the slopes of Lost Valley in Auburn, she skied on the World Cup Alpine circuit, winning titles in giant slalom at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire in 1991, in slalom at Sundsvall, Sweden in 1992, and in slalom at Park City, Utah in 1992. She had one other World Cup podium finish and 15 top-10s in her career. At the 1993 World Championships, Parisien won silver in the slalom. She narrowly missed an Olympic medal, placing fourth in slalom and fifth in giant slalom at Albertville in 1992. After her retirement from the World Cup circuit, Parisien skied for 10 years on the women’s pro ski tour.

She was looking for a way back into the sport — a small step, at first — as she moved back to Maine and settled in Winthrop.

What they weren’t looking for was each other.

“We literally ran into each other, face-to-face, across the street from each other in our cars,” Parisien said, describing a chance meeting in Winthrop between her and LaVallee last year. “I got out, we said hello and he gave me a big ol’ bear hug. I hadn’t seen him in a long time.”

LaVallee was Parisien’s first ski coach with the U.S. Ski Team, and the two were inducted together into the Maine Skiing Hall of Fame in 2008.

“There’s some poetic harmony to the fact that I settled in his hometown without even knowing it,” Parisien said. “When I ran into him, it was really a great feeling. I thought, ‘He can connect me back into the ski world.'”

Putting ideas together

In the weeks that followed, Parisien and LaVallee met to discuss skiing. LaVallee was helping coach and run clinics at Mt. Abram Ski resort in Greenwood under Mark Thibodeau, the program director there.

But he felt there was something missing, something that would truly benefit the area’s high school and middle school ski programs and, more imprtantly, the area’s young skiers.

Thus was born Le Club de Sport LaVallee/Parisien.

Thibodeau, and LaVallee had spent two winters developing the program and, with the addition of Parisien to the staff, were ready to help young skiers expand their racing opportunities and experience.

“We supplement and support the athlete’s home program, high school and middle school coaches, and training needs,” Thibodeau said in a statement released at the program’s launch last fall. “We will do this by providing world class coaching, a 40-day training program that includes training over Christmas break, low racer to coach ratio, extensive video analysis and logical progression of skills development through a blending of directed, free ski drills, gate drills and full-length courses.”

“It’s all high school kids, middle school kids and elementary school kids,” LaVallee said. “Ninety-nine percent of the high school and middle school kids (in the program) belong to a school team, and that’s important. What our goal is, is to complement the training they’re getting from their home high school program, support their home high school program and coach them further.”

“A lot of the kids, if they want to go ski in college, they have to go through the USSA series, and they have to spend more money and do all these races where sometimes they don’t even finish the race,” Edward Little ski coach Tara Eretzian said. “Here, they’re getting quality training and just more opportunities to get better.”

For Parisien, the chance to be involved in what is being billed as “Maine’s premiere non-academy ski racing program” was a chance to return to her roots.

“I’m a complete community product, as a lot of people are in skiing,” she said. “Our goal with a lot of our kids isn’t necessarily to shuffle them off to the FIS (International Ski Federation) races. These are for kids who are committed to doing their high school race programs and maybe some of them might look for a scholarship to some colleges, but some of them are just looking to have a good time ski racing. For me, all the lessons of adaptability, of being tough … All the lessons from skiing are applicable to life, and it’s more to me than just getting kids to ski faster on a slalom course. It’s also about life as a challenge. Life is a slalom course and you have to be ready for it.”

Under the lights

Part of LaVallee’s original vision, which came to fruition last season, was a series of races for high school skiers, based loosely on the World Cup system, to augment what they were already doing with their school teams.

“I thought it was awfully dull,” LaVallee said. “It was the same old, same old. I saw (high school) events going on, coaches were leaving on the bus out of the parking lot before awards were even given. They didn’t know who’d won the race as a team, who won it as an individual. I said to myself, ‘If this was football, you’d never leave the field without knowing who the winner was.’ So that was part of it.”

LaVallee looked to his past for some inspiration.

“Years ago, when I was at Gould for the first time, I put together a series for the prep school programs a similar type of thing,” LaVallee said. “It was based not on one race, but an accumulation of races.”

And, he said, the goal was to reward the teams, but also the individual racers.

“In high school skiing, you hear it all the time, team skiing, team skiing, team skiing, and yes it’s a team sport, but it’s also an individual sport,” LaVallee said. “The team remained important, the dynamics of a team concept, and yet it allowed the individuals within that team excel to the highest level.”

The system LaVallee uses awards points to individual skiers based on their finish, and the number of points depends directly on the number of racers.

“Another thing I looked at when I looked at high school skiing, some of the teams here are struggling to get enough skiers, enough boys and girls to comprise a team,” LaVallee said. “When some teams go to a race, they can’t even get a team score. So, to me, it was a very simple fix. You change the configuration of scoring. You can still count up to four, but you use an NCAA method of doing it, and it’s based on the number of starters. The number of starters equals the total number of points, and you work backwards by one place all the way to the bottom.”

A skier like Abbie Jansen of St. Dom’s, LaVallee said, is a prime example of a beneficiary of this system.

“She went to the race (two weeks ago), and based on her place, scored 46 points,” LaVallee said. “It wasn’t a last-place finish, St. Dom’s didn’t go without being recognized, and so on and so forth. That’s how we address the team element.”

As for the individuals, skiers aren’t penalized if they have to miss a race, or if their school team has to miss a race due to a prior commitment. The series is based on an accumulating points system, again similar to the World Cup.

So far, so good. Last season, the Mt. Abram Racing Series had four events and a finale. This year, there are five.

“The last one is going to be a combi, which is modeled after what they do in the world cup, except there’s no Super-G,” LaVallee said. “It’s going to be one run of GS and another run of slalom combined. We think it will add some excitement to the thing and a new twist to it. Looking ahead to next year, I’m already talking with them up there, I’d like to add a parallel slalom to the race series.”

And while Parisien is on board with the race series, she’s quick to point out that she came in to the process with the race series already established.

“We try to run right on time, we run it as scheduled, we bang it out as fast as we can, and as professionally as we can,” Parisien said. “I’m amazed by what Mark Thibodeau and Coach LaVallee have been able to do. They’re the ones who really put this all together and thought about it all. As far as the race series goes, I kind of jumped in and am just along for the ride. It’s awesome, though, I love it. we’re having a good time and doing some good for some kids.”

General approval

Many of the area’s high school coaches have embraced the idea, and their athletes are reaping the benefits.

“It’s the best high school ski racing program I’ve ever seen,” Livermore Falls and jay ski coach Kenny Jacques said. “I’m not taking anything away from the private schools, but these guys really are focusing on high school kids, and it really gives these kids an opportunity to get more training than we can give to them for sure.”

Several of the area’s high school teams — and fractions of teams — are a slave to their conference schedules. But this year, whether on purpose of by happenstance, many of the races overlap with the Mt. Abram series.

“They do their best, they schedule their races so that they aren’t the same days as some others, and then we can all go there, too,” Jacques said. “We go to Titcomb, we go to Black Mountain, as well.”

Schedule-wise, LaVallee said, the goal all along was to supplement the skiers’ experiences with their school teams, not replace them.

“The effort was to look at what’s going on and work with those schedules,” LaVallee said. “I’m hopeful that this will become popular enough so it will get integrated even more into the regular-season schedule without interrupting what goes on in the KVAC or the MVC or any of those leagues.”

“Our intention is not to take over any of these high school programs,” Parisien said. “They all have their own individual coaches, and a lot of the coaches are excellent coaches. But we provide a depth of experience that isn’t necessarily seen at this level. All our intention is in the race series is to give those kids the opportunity to experience what it’s like to race on the World Cup.”

“Something like this was needed a long time ago, and I think they’ve found a niche with it,” Jacques said.

“It’s great for the skiers,” Eretzian said. “It gives them a taste of what it’s like to race at another level, makes it more like college races or like the Mountain Dew Series. It’s a great opportunity.”

There are, LaVallee admitted, some dissenters, or those casting suspicious eyes toward the true intent of the racing program.

“There is some resistance from coaches,” LaVallee admitted. “I suppose they see me as being overbearing, intimidating a little bit. In this sport, like probably most sports, egos get involved in the thing, and they worry about, ‘Well, are the kids going to get more involved with (us).’ So, that’s something we’re fighting like crazy to overcome, because that is not our attempt whatsoever. Our goal is to try and help the kids.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.