CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Skiing in his first U.S. Alpine Championships, Brooks Layman, formerly of Auburn, is trying to exercise patience and measure his progress in small steps.

Friday morning at Sugarloaf was a giant leap.

From starting 74th in a field of 80 men, Layman outperformed his seeding by more than two dozen spots, posting the 46th best time in his first run.

“That’s a pretty good move,” Layman said.

Layman survived what was a harrowing session, with 26 skiers failing to finish.

This week’s variable weather conditions were an overriding factor.

“Today you got set up in the morning, and yesterday with the rain did not help with the surface this morning,” Layman said. “It froze overnight a little bit, so it’s not always the same. Some turns are icy, and some turns are pretty soft.”

One of those changes in direction ultimately jumped up and bit Layman, who was unable to complete his second run.

“You’re trying to gun it as much as possible, but when it gets to these kinds of conditions you’ve got to step back a little bit,” he said. “It’s a fine line.”

Layman, a 19-year-old now living in Colorado, is participating in every race at nationals. He was 44th in downhill and 38th in Super-G.

Slalom wraps up the event Sunday.

As one of the few skiers in the event with native connections, Layman continues to enjoy the home cooking.

“It’s cool seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen for a few years,” Layman said. “I know where to go, where all the good restaurants are, where the good trails are. That’s cool. Everyone asks me where to go.”

Where we wants to go, in the future, is the level of Friday’s podium finishers — Tim Jitloff, Tommy Ford and Nick Cohee.

As evidenced by the gap of less than eight seconds Friday morning, Layman knows the gap isn’t a canyon.

“Coming from Colorado, we do a lot of elite races with them and train with them in the fall I did a few NorAm races in Canada,” Layman said. “I try to beat these guys. Us young guys are trying to get their spot.”

Third’s fine with him

It’s hard to blame Cohee if felt a mite out-of-place in the top three.

Jitloff and Ford have won 14 U.S. titles between them. Cohee, a University of Utah graduate from Lake Tahoe, Calif., had never stood on a podium at nationals until 2 o’clock Friday afternoon.

“I won a NorAm last year, but this is probably my best race in terms of being in U.S. Nationals and being on the podium,” Cohee said. “I’ve been fast since college, I’ve just been keeping it going. I’m coming off a good couple of races and just felt comfortable. In this field you’ve got to charge it, and I felt comfortable to do that. I’ve never been in the mix with the top guys, so I’m happy being third.”

In memory

Male and female skiers are wearing a variety of helmet stickers this week in honor of late U.S. Ski Team members Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle.

Berlack, 20, and Astle, 19, died Jan. 5 in an avalanche in Soelden, Austria.

The two were members of the national men’s development team along with Sam Morse of Carrabassett Valley.

Opening Ceremonies all about recognition 

Skiing fans from across the state and across the region lined the King Pine room at the Base Lodge anxiously awaiting an autograph session with some of the most famous athletes in the sport Thursday. 

Fans, ranging from toddlers to grandparents, stood in line for as long as an hour just for a minutes with their favorites athletes. In their hands were posters, helmets, books, skis and whatever else they could find to have signed. 

About 20 athletes happily met with their adoring fans, signed autographs and took photos. Among those in attendance were Mikaela Shiffrin, Tommy Ford, Sam Morse and Travis Ganong. 

“It brings me back to when I was that age,” Abby Ghent said. “I know exactly what it’s like so I try to give them the best role model I can be.” 

Ghent said the best thing she signed was a couple of speed suits. 

The autograph session served as the first time for the Sugarloaf faithful to meet Shiffrin, who arrived earlier that day. The fans took advantage, posing for pictures and chatting up the Olympian slalom skier. 

Fans lined up early. By the time the autograph session officially started at 7:30 p.m., the line had already snaked around the upper floor where the athletes were seated and spiraled down the stairs to the ground level. And they all stayed, slowing inching closer to the athletes they’ve watched earlier in the week or on television. 

“That was pretty unreal to do a hometown autograph session,” Carrabassett Valley native Sam Morse said. “Tons of little kids all super excited. It’s just super neat to see that kind of energy at Sugarloaf.” 

For the athletes, seeing all the kids reminded them of themselves when they were that age. Morse said it was only just a few years ago when he was on the opposite side of the table getting autographs from members of the U.S. ski team that he sat beside Thursday. 

Morse wasn’t the only one. 

“That’s how I was,” Bryce Bennett said. “I was the same kid in the line saying ‘I get to meet all my heroes or all the people who are good at skiing.’ “

Due to the sheer volume of fans, the autograph session went much longer than anticipated. The last autographs were signed a little after 9 p.m. 

And that was just Thursday. Due to Mother Nature, the second half of the Opening Ceremonies were pushed back to Friday, including the parade of athletes, remarks by Sugarloaf’s John Diller, U.S. Ski team’s Tiger Shaw and Carrabassett Valley Academy’s Kate Punderson. Also held on Friday was an award presentation for Paul Fremont Smith for his dedication to the U.S. Ski team. 

The fans came in droves to see all of that as well. They littered Main St. hoping to catch a glance of the athletes as they paraded toward the Beach. Skiers from the CVA Weekend program led the march, followed by college athletes and the U.S. Ski team at the end.

The Opening Ceremonies not only celebrated the athletes for their time and effort this week at the U.S. Alpine Championships, but those whose racing careers are coming to an end at the end of the week. Ben Morse and Craig Marshall will call it a career at the end of the week. Marshall suffered an injury last month and is not competing this week, but has offered his color commentary in the booth during races. Ben Morse will compete in the men’s slalom Sunday for his final race.

“Ben and Craig are examples why all of this is worthwhile,” Punderson said. “So many people over the years have worked hard to support them and while they have benefited from this ski racing community, we all have benefited even more. Ben and Craig have been tremendous leaders and competitors. They’ve given us such joy and excitement.”

The festivities ended with a bang, as the skiing community was treated to a firework display.  

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