Perhaps nothing demonstrates the double meaning more graphically than Morse family photos of younger son, Sam, a month shy of his second birthday, balancing himself on skis and preparing to descend a bunny slope.

“It’s definitely a significant part of our lives, as it is for every kid who lives in the Valley,” said Ben, Sam’s elder by four years. “It’s what you do. It would be a long winter without it.”

For a select few, the two-lane road out of town leads to equally majestic peaks in Alaska, or Chile, or Norway.

Bode Miller and Kirsten Clark discovered World Cup greatness. Seth Wescott and Jeremy Jones emerged as pioneers in the snowboard disciplines of boardercross and big mountain freeriding.

Maine skiing’s Mount Rushmore remains uncarved, but those four are on a first-name or nickname basis in perpetuity around here. The ever-smiling face and measured, cerebral voice of the next generation answers simply to Sam.

Morse, 18, is the top-ranked men’s downhill skier of his age in the nation and one of only two males that age on the 2014-15 U.S. Ski Team.


His talents are on display in what equates to a home game this week. The Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships begin Wednesday at Sugarloaf. It is one of Sam’s final chances to cement his place in the development program and continue moving up the ladder next winter.

“You have to make the ski team every year,” Morse said. “You don’t sign a multiyear contract. You have to keep earning your spot. At the end of the year they tally up the scores and make their decision.”

Chip Cochrane, whose coaching career at CVA spans from Miller’s formative years to Morse in the present, believes that invitation is mere formality.

“Sam is the complete package,” Cochrane said. “He doesn’t have any (apparent) weaknesses. And if there are weaknesses, he finds a way to get better and make them strengths.”

Born this way

Between geography and genetics, skiing and an appreciation for academics and creation probably were Morse’s birthright.


His parents, Earle and Pamela, were natives of Greater Boston and graduates of Bates College. From there they attended divinity school, both becoming ordained before moving to Franklin County in 1990 to start their family and ministry.

Ben was born two years later. He, too, was on skis at the age when most parents and children are navigating the terrible twos together.

“My dad grew up skiing a lot in Vermont. He never really raced much but was a die-hard skier,” Sam said. “It’s so different starting that young. I probably feel more comfortable on skis than most people do walking down the street. It becomes an extension of your body.”

CVA Head of School Kate Webber Punderson met the family when Ben was 7 and Sam was 3.

The boys were home-schooled through seventh grade while their parents directed Sugarloaf Area Christian Ministry, providing chaplain services to the community.

“It starts with the weekend program at Sugarloaf. He did a lot of freeskiing with his dad,” Punderson said. “He grew up in a ski-racing family. He was able to chase his older brother and see him become successful. It was natural for Sam to embrace that.”


Miller is renowned as a free spirit who approaches skiing and life his way. In his teenage years, that led to clashes with authority, and CVA coaches and teachers were no exception.

Cochrane saw the same personality type, but a different manifestation, in his early encounters with the younger Morse.

“He was always mature for his age and wanting to do the right thing the right way all the time. He was wired a little differently,” Cochrane said. “Other kids might look at that and say he was a little righteous. They might have said he was a tattletale, because he would call somebody out if they weren’t doing what he thought they should. He was never swayed by peer pressure.”

Thoughtful beyond his years, Morse gravitated to leisure activities that were foreign to his peers.

When elementary-school Sam spoke with excitement about all the things he had seen and done on a family vacation, his parents suggested that he write his thoughts in a journal. That hobby became a habit and extended to his daily skiing achievements.

“It’s just something that kind of connected with me,” he said. “I’d always been journaling and never thought much about it. It helps me process things. It’s easier sometimes to get it down on paper and release and process the events of the day. I find it very beneficial.”


Even in the smartphone generation, even in environments where the demands of academia couldn’t have been further from everyone’s mind, CVA coaches were never surprised to catch Morse scratching pen against paper or reading a novel.

“If there was a weather delay or we were waiting for a race to begin, kids would be on the phone or playing cards in the lodge, and you’d see Sam off in the corner reading a book,” Cochrane said. “He was doing homework so he wouldn’t have to do it later.”

“If he knows it’s going to give him an extra edge,” Punderson added, “he’s going to do it.”

Go far, go fast

Morse’s domination of the 2013-14 FIS circuit caught the attention of U.S. Ski Team coaches. Sam was one of two 96s (classification is according to birth year) selected in May.

Ben knows the drill. He was the forerunner, in skiing terms, earning a berth on the team at the same stage of his development.


The invitation wasn’t extended for a second season. Ben’s backup plan wasn’t a bad one: Dartmouth College, where he skied at the NCAA Division I level four years, captaining the team for three.

Big brother is among many who believe that “little” brother — Sam checks in at about 6 feet and 200 pounds — has the right combination of skill and fearlessness to succeed.

“There are a lot of kids out there who have the physical gifts, but they aren’t willing to go fast,” Ben said. “You hear people say the same thing about car racing. He has a good frame for downhill, but a soft touch for a guy his size. He adjusts on the fly. It’s not just brute force, but style. He combines a willingness to go fast with strong technical skills.”

Globetrotting is part of the CVA competitive curriculum, but it is nothing like Morse has experienced in the whirlwind since his selection last spring.

Sam trained in the United States from May to August, skied in South America in September, competed in the Rocky Mountains for the remainder of autumn, and has bounced from Europe to Canada to Norway and back again since New Year’s Day.

“He’s done really well this season. Anybody who puts on that jacket knows the expectations, and he expects a lot of himself,” Ben said. “A lot of kids his age are going off to college without the perspective he has at 16, 17, 18 years old. This is like the early college years. You learn to do your own laundry, manage your own equipment.


“It’s a bit of a transient existence, but better that than a lot of the alternatives.”

Reminders of Bode, Ben

The comparisons between Miller and Morse usually lead back to their strapping frames and headstrong natures.

On the slopes, Morse tends to be more conservative, favoring the stand-up style he learned on Sugarloaf’s icy terrain. He is more content than Miller to measure his progress in slow-but-sure steps.

When it comes to Morse’s approach to training and filtering advice, however, Cochrane is certain the national coaches hear a familiar refrain.

“He’s receptive, for sure, but just because you say something doesn’t mean he’s going to do it,” Cochrane said. “You can’t argue with him, because he will lay out a plan before you that is impeccable. Other kids have those notions but can’t back it up. As a coach I appreciate that. That just means the kid is thinking on his own.”


Morse jokes about “channeling (his) inner Bode,” a tendency that is tempting in a gong-show situation where he could get caught up in competing against the clock or looking over his shoulder.

Again, that advanced maturity kicks in.

“I’m still in the developmental stage with my abilities,” he said. “You can get caught up in results, and at the end of the day you have to become a better skier. Every day, I ask myself what I did that day to become a better skier.”

Comparisons to his brother are natural, too.

Perhaps due to the four-year age difference, the brothers said they have never viewed themselves as rivals. Ben compared the relationship to the one exhibited by quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning.

“We’ve always looked at it as us taking on the world together instead of me against him,” Sam agreed. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it hadn’t been for him. We’ve grown up through the sport together.”


They will ski together in the same event, perhaps for the last time, in this week’s championships. Ben’s career is winding down as he graduates from Dartmouth in the spring. Sam is on deferred acceptance to the school and plans to begin his studies — in conjunction with his national team commitments, he hopes — in 2016-17.

In an event contested this past week at Sugarloaf, Sam finished ninth in a NorAm downhill, his bread-and-butter.

“He’s still progressing. I was just on the hill with him the other day,” Cochrane said. “He’s healthy. He’s happy. He still goes to bed at 8 o’clock at night. Nobody does that unless maybe they’re my age. That’s something that might provide him one of his biggest edges. He’s getting the rest he needs. Ultimately, at the top, it’s those little things that separate guys.”

Punderson said current CVA students already venerate Morse as an example of the school’s global reach. Faculty are fond of the adage that prior gold medalists and groundbreakers “put on their pants one leg at a time.”

“Everybody comes here with that dream, whether it’s the Olympics or being on the U.S. Ski Team or X-Games or whatever. We encourage those dreams,” she said. “To make it at that level, you need the support of the community and you have to take advantage of the things that are available to you. He has taken advantage of every opportunity.”

Morse chalks up his success to his family’s shared faith, also instilled from the age when he was old enough to stand up on skis.

His mentors are quick to acknowledge that natural talent, a tireless work ethic, stubbornness and good health don’t hurt, either.

“From an early age he had a knack of steering things to his favor,” Cochrane said. “There are different ways to get it done. The key is finding your own way.”

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