For the fifth time in its history, the small town of Carrabassett Valley will be the place to be for skiing aficionados across the country wanting to see the top skiers in the U.S. compete.

Seven years removed from its last turn in the spotlight, the U.S. Alpine Championships will take over Sugarloaf Mountain and the roughly 800-person town that surrounds it beginning Wednesday. 

“It’s a good thing for Sugarloaf, it’s a good thing for our area, it’s a good thing for Maine in general,” Sugarloaf Director of Marketing and Chief of Press Ethan Austin said. “Sugarloaf has a really rich history in ski racing. It really puts the spotlight on Maine and the Maine ski industry and shows the caliber of event we can host here.”

Sugarloaf employees have been working around the clock in preparation for the national event, making sure Narrow Gauge is up to standard for the five-day showcase.

“It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of man hours,” Austin said. “Narrow Gauge is used for racing throughout the season, so it’s not like we’re doing something totally out of the ordinary for that trail, but for an event of this caliber you have to meet certain specifications. It involves a lot of setting up what’s called the ‘A’ net and ‘B’ net, which are the nets that line the trails to protect the racers. It requires a bit more care, a bit more attention.” 

Less than a week removed from wrapping up their World Cup season in Meribel, France, the top U.S. athletes in the sport will make the quick turnaround and compete throughout the week. Some of the skiers expected in Maine this week include Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Andrew Weibrecht, Tommy Ford, David Chodounsky, Stacy Cook, Laurenne Ross, Steve Nyman, Marco Sullivan and Carrabassett Valley native and Carrabassett Valley Academy alum Sam Morse. 


For some skiers, this year marks the first time they will tackle Sugarloaf. 

“I’ve heard it’s steep,” Shiffrin said. “I’ve heard the speed track is quite tough, but I don’t know if the technical track is on the same slope, so I’m really excited to go there. Sugarloaf seems like a rite of passage for any ski racer in the U.S. and I’ve never skied there, so I feel like I’m passing through that rite of passage a little later but checking that off the list.” 

Sugarloaf last hosted the national event in 2008.  Since then, the U.S. Championships have been to Alyeska, Alaska, Winter Park, Colo., and Squaw Valley, Calif. While the athletes were away, Sugarloaf invested millions of dollars in upgrades, including money spent on new pumps for the snowmaking system, 25 new Boyne Low-E fan guns and 50 low energy HKD tower guns. A new fixed grip quad chairlift replaced the old Spillway lift, and new signs across the 1,230-acre ski area were installed. 

Sugarloaf has come along way since it hosted the 1971 World Cup, the first time the mountain hosted an FIS sanctioned event. 

The U.S. Championships begin Wednesday at 9 a.m. with the men’s super-G. The women’s super-G follows at noon. The super-G will feature Weibrecht, among others. Weibrecht won the silver medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and the bronze at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Vonn, who will only race in the giant slalom this week, continues to make history after winning her record 67th career World Cup race and 19th career Crystal Globe. 

“The ski team stars are legitimate super stars, they’re celebrities,” Austin said. “You do get a little starstruck that they’re coming here. People like Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, who will both be here, they’re legit celebrities and they’re Olympic stars, World Cup stars, so it’s really cool that they’ll be here at our mountain racing on our trails.” 


Wednesday is the only day that features more than one event. 

Thursday features the women’s giant slalom as well as the opening ceremonies at night. The opening ceremonies include a parade of athletes, speeches by members of Sugarloaf and the U.S. ski team, and a fireworks display. There will be an autograph session immediately following. 

The men’s giant slalom is Friday, followed by the women’s slalom on Saturday and the men’s slalom on Sunday. Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin is expected to compete in both the giant slalom and slalom. 

“I really like going to the U.S. nationals,” Shiffrin said. “When there’s time at the end of the season it seems like such a nice way to finish the season off. Getting to race with people more my age, with more of my friends who race in college, it’s like reuniting with my roots and it’s just a huge bonus that there are a lot of younger racers there who seem to be inspired by my skiing and Lindsey’s skiing and Ted (Ligety’s) skiing. When we’re able to make it, if even it’s only for a day, it goes along way in ski racing.”

Bode Miller, who severed a hamstring tendon in his super-G race at the 2015 World Championships at Beaver Creek, won’t be competing in the U.S. Championships. But Morse, who followed the same path Miller did on his way to a spot with the U.S. ski team, will be competing. He’ll compete in the giant slalom and slalom for a second straight year. He placed in the top 30 in both disciplines at last year’s event and earned a spot on the U.S. team. 

Sugarloaf won’t have to wait another seven years to host the U.S. Championships, either. The Maine mountain is slated to host again in 2017.

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