Few skiers know Narrow Gauge better than Gail Blackburn.

The Sugarloaf skier from Brunswick knows all about the championships coming to Sugarloaf this week. Gail joined the Sugarloaf junior racing program at 10 years old and rapidly progressed through the ranks of junior racing.

She expanded her competition when she entered Burke Mountain Academy, but returned to Sugarloaf on a regular basis, winning three Rand Stowell Downhills on the same trail the competitors will race on this week. In 1971, Gail was slated to forerun Sugarloaf’s first World Cup downhill on Narrow Gauge. When the U.S. Ski Team realized that, as the host team, they had extra start positions, the 16-year-old racer from Brunswick was entered in the race.

Her 23rd-place finish in her first-ever World Cup race grabbed the attention of the U.S. Ski Team and she was invited to the team’s training camp at Mammoth Mountain in California. A year later, at age 17, Gail became the first female Alpine ski racer from Maine to be named to the U.S. Ski Team. In 1973, the year she graduated from Burke, she won the Junior National Downhill and Combined Championships and finished second in the GS at White Pass in Washington. Two years later, she won the National Downhill title. After five years on the team, and having established herself as one of the top female ski racers in the world, Gail retired from competitive ski racing at 22 and headed to college.

While she ran her own interior decorating company in New Hampshire, Gail has always made Sugarloaf her home on weekends. She recently returned to Carrabassett Valley to work full-time. The former U.S. champion has been passing along her experience to U-12 ski racers in the Carrabassett Valley Academy weekend program. These 10- and 11-year-olds are part of a feeder program for CVA, and they are excited to learn that their coach was a member of the U.S. Ski Team, which is a goal for many of these young competitors.

Who better, then, to ask what our national Alpine championships mean to our young skiers?


When I spoke with Gail this past week, she was getting ready to head for the mountain where she was working on the course as a gate keeper and flagger for the Nor-Am speed finals. The weather, a day of snow followed by a day of high winds, condensed the schedule, forcing training runs and actual downhill racing on the same day. The winds were even stronger and the schedule took another hit Wednesday.

But I did get a chance to ask about her experience at the national championships. She pointed out that for a young racer the national Alpines are a “big deal.” For many of the younger racers, it’s an opportunity to compete against the best of the U.S. team, and a good showing can lead to a promotion to the team.

Gail has special memories of the 1973 Junior Nationals, which gave her an opportunity to her rise in World Cup competition. White Pass is the home mountain of twins Phil and Steve Mahre. The ski area was run by their father, and it’s where they learned to ski.

While the race happened a year before the twins were elevated to the U.S. team, they were well known in racing circles, and would join Gail in the winner’s list in 1975. “Steve Mahre congratulated me,” Gail said.

All of the racing this week is scheduled for Narrow Gauge, and Gail has a great record on that trail in downhill (super-G wasn’t an event in the 1970s). In addition to winning three Rand Stowell downhills, she competed in Nor-Ams as a member of the U.S. Team.

On one occasion, we watched as two top U.S. downhillers, Andy Mill and Maine’s own Karl Anderson, fell coming into the headwall during a U.S. Ski Team spring series downhill. Snow melt from the high side of the trail had created a pair of icy rolls right at the turn before the skiers dropped into the chute down the right side. While it took out the two top men, Gail Blackburn rode over the ice and carried all her speed down that chute, winning the women’s race. Today, she recognizes that the key to the super-G will be how the racers approach and handle the headwall. With binoculars, the skiers on the headwall can be seen from the finish.


With all the racing on Narrow Gauge, it will be a relatively short walk up from the base lodge to watch at the finish line. On skis, it will be even easier — just ski down from the top of the short side of double-runner chair.

Sugarloaf always puts on a good show for any race, and they will go all out this week. Gail Blackburn won’t be racing, but she will be on the course.

You can find me at the finish, too, where, with any luck, I will be soaking up some sun.

See you on the slopes.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.