CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Bruce Miles knows the saying, “It takes a village,” might be a little worn out these days, but Friday he could think of no other way to describe the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into putting on a world-class ski race.

Miles, a member of the Sugarloaf Ski Club, and 90 other club volunteers have been staffing the slopes during the U.S. Alpine Championships.

Volunteers are assigned a range of jobs, including setting course gates, side-slipping the course on skis to get it smooth and fast, and announcing and timing the races. The event is accomplished in large part with volunteer help.

Miles said those far beyond the limelight and the podiums are the glue that hold everything together.

It’s not a fact that’s overlooked by the athletes.

“My first national title was here, and I remember it being the same way: well, well done on the Narrow Gauge,” said Tim Jitloff, a member of the U.S. Alpine Team and Friday’s giant slalom champion. “The people who have put this on have done an excellent job.”

One of those volunteers, Delinda Smith, said she started volunteering with the club more than 15 years ago when her son was a young racer, and she just stuck with it.

Smith said local ski-racing programs were important to her son, and she sees volunteering her time as a way of giving back to the community, the ski hill and the sport.

“It’s also just being with the good people who do this,” Smith said. “It’s fun socially, with a great group and great camaraderie.”

Other volunteers and employees of the ski resort also step up to the challenge of a big event.

The Sugarloaf Ski Patrol members were the first on the ski hill at 6:45 a.m. Friday.

Riding with a handful of race crew workers and coaches, the patrol set out to make sure the race course is barricaded so skiers not in the race won’t stray onto the course, risking collision with racers, who can travel at speeds of 60 mph or faster.

They typically start at 7 a.m., but additional staff was being added to stand by on the side of the race course for the day.

The weather, with snow and rain the night before, and temperatures plunging to freezing before warming again, have complicated the resort’s grooming plans, and a low-hanging cloud cover on the summit created a fog bank that caused concern about visibility. And complicating the work flow, a disabled Snowcat had to be repaired and removed from another trail.

Assistant Patrol Director Roddy Ehrlenbach is juggling two phones and communication on two radios, talking to patrollers, grooming operators and the chairlift maintenance crews. 

He said that because the temperatures didn’t drop until early morning, the snow wasn’t firm enough to groom, and with a mountain as big as Sugarloaf, it’s hard to get it all groomed before it’s opening time for the public at 9 a.m.

Complicating that, temperatures were not expected to rise too far above freezing at the higher elevations, making even the easy runs a challenge for skiers.

Even with the two-hour head start, all hands were busy as patrollers checked the trails for hazards and closed off areas that weren’t safe for most skiers.

“You kind of get up against it with how late do you want to keep groomers on the hill and how long do you want to hold off skiers,” Ehrlenbach said. “If we had a guarantee that it was going to get warmer like it usually does in the spring, we probably wouldn’t be as aggressive with all the signage and warnings and all that, but the forecast we have is it as warm right now (at about 8 a.m.) as it is going to be all day.”

Ehrlenbach had five additional patrollers to staff the course in case of a serious injury or mishap; there were none on the course Friday. But making sure everybody knew where they were going, how long they would be there and what their responsibilities were required a couple of quick briefings.

But the ski patrollers were not the only ones busy chipping in with extra duties. A handful of Sugarloaf’s snow-making team also were working, even though the resort stopped its snow-making operations nearly six weeks ago.

The snow-makers on Friday were playing taxi driver as they used snowmobiles to shuttle non-skiing spectators to the race course. They also helped to assemble and dismantle parts of the race course as needed by race officials and other volunteers.

Jim McCormack, Sugarloaf’s competition manager, who was among those first on the hill at 6:45 a.m., summed up how the work of a big race gets done.

“It takes everyone,” McCormack said. “It just takes everyone.”

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