Two weeks ago, Lost Valley was on my calendar because there were a couple of events I wanted to check out.

Saturday there would be a USSA Level 100 coaches’ clinic, and the J. P. Parisien race was scheduled for Sunday. Any skier remembers that Saturday — rain and freezing rain. Not wanting to drive anywhere in freezing rain, I waited for Sunday and drove up under sunny skies to find a rapidly filling parking lot covered with ice.

The base lodge was busy with racers and their families all getting booted up for the slalom that would take place on Big Buck, the open slope in front of the base lodge. On cold days, parents can watch the entire run through the floor to ceiling windows, but on this day they gathered in the warm sun at the base of the run to watch the young racers.

The old designations of J-I through J-V have been replaced by U-8, -10, -12, -14 and -16. The popularity of this memorial race is evidenced by numbers and the geographic spread of the competitors. There were a few no shows due to the weather as reports came in that the turnpike was still iced over in the Bangor area, but 130 racers were on hand, representing Shawnee Peak, Penobscot Valley Ski Club, Gould Academy/Sunday River, Spruce Mountain, CVA, Camden, Scarborough, Lewiston and Lost Valley — and perhaps more.

Jodd Bowles, who runs the race program at Lost Valley, spent the day in the timing shack at the base of the slope, where the times were flashed to the crowd as each racer crossed the finish. He told me that the Lost Valley Ski Club and the Lewiston-Auburn Ski Association had raised the money for the wireless timing, making the efficient running of the race possible. They were also responsible for the safety netting and gates.

Julie Parisien Nuce showed up with husband Tim, and children, Alex, Josie and William, to make some runs and take in the festivities. Among the parents I talked with was one whose children had raced the year before. He told me how his daughter had seen her name on the plaques listing all of the top finishers over the first 21 years of the event. To an eight year old that was a big deal. The plaques were on display over the lobby fireplace, always a gathering spot in the base lodge. It was one more way this ski area that is such a part of Lewiston-Auburn does things right, a fitting tribute to the memory of J. P. Parisien.

Putting on a clinic

What I missed the day before, given the weather, I have a feel for what it must have been like. My interest in the clinic came when I learned from Gail Blackburn that she was going to go into coaching. As the first Maine woman skier to make the U.S. Alpine team, Gail raced on the World Cup circuit for five years. She has been living in New Hampshire, but always skied out of the family camp at Sugarloaf. This past summer she worked at the Sugarloaf golf course and is now working this winter in the rental shop. Her plans are to coach at CVA in the weekend program.

But the clinic comes first.

It may seem that a racer who raced against the world’s best (ranked in the top 15 in slalom in the early seventies) could step right in, but it’s not that simple. In order to work on the hill as a race coach a skier must be registered and that requires completion of the USSA Level 100 clinic. It’s a combination of on snow and classroom designed to present the basic Alpine Ski Fundamentals all the drills used in teaching/coaching those fundamentals.

Before the on-snow portion of the clinic, each candidate completed a classroom course and test. That included first aid and safety. Lost Valley was closed, but Bowles used a snowmobile to tow skiers up the hill. That, along with some climbing, allowed completion of the clinic. Blackburn cited her sailing experience for helping to make it comfortable.

“I donned my foul weather gear, sailing jacket, Goretex pants and gloves. I was warm and dry,” she said.

She pointed out that goggles iced over and were worthless, so they went without.

Ron Kipp had flown in from Utah and U.S. Ski Team Headquarters to run the show, and managed to run about ten potential coaches through their paces including Bowles who not only ran the snow mobile but took part as well. The philosophy of the U.S. Ski Team is to create good skiers first, then great racers. This explains the focus on fundamentals. USSA has also developed the Alpine Training System (ATS), a long term athlete development framework for alpine coaches.

They worked on drills covering each part of the turn, from initiation to completion, edge pressure and release. Blackburn now realizes how involved and organized the series of coaching certifications are. There are five levels, four being what most coaches aspire to, the fifth being international certification. She had plenty of experience with drills at Burke Mountain Academy at the beginning of her racing career, and with numerous coaches on the U.S. Team.

“Because one is a great skier/racer does not guarantee they will make a great coach. I am taking my experience and the new knowledge to help me develop and grow as a coach,” Blackburn said.

I have no doubt that one of the finest racers to come out of Maine will do just fine handing her knowledge on to Maine’s future racers. It will be fun following Gail Blackburn’s journey through training and development as a coach.

See you on the slopes.

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