Less than a week removed from making headlines for a ski lift incident that left seven people injured, Sugarloaf was once again in the news, this time for all the right reasons.

Some of the country’s best skiers flocked to Sugarloaf, looking to tackle Narrow Gauge and take home a national title. 

While some big names were missing, many more made the trip after completing their World Cup tour overseas. Among those in attendance were Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Stacey Cook, Steve Nyman, Andrew Weibrecht and David Chodounsky. 

Vonn may only have been a forerunner for the women’s giant slalom, but she became the most sought after forerunner in the sport’s history as she was swarmed by fans of all ages hoping to either snap a photo or get an autograph from the seven-time World Cup downhill champion and Olympic gold medalist. 

Those who competed? They dazzled the crowd, which grew larger as the week continued. There were even a few surprises. Drew Duffy shocked everyone on the first day as he started 30th and finished first in 1 minute, 19.73 seconds, besting 13 members of the U.S. ski team in the process in the men’s super-G. 

The U.S. Ski team would have plenty of moments in the sun and on the podium, beginning with Alice McKennis winning the women’s super-G by one-tenth-of-a-second over Canada’s Valerie Grenier. The U.S. Ski team placed five skiers in the top eight in the event. 

Speaking of sun, Mother Nature couldn’t have been kinder to Sugarloaf. All five days and six events went off without a hitch, most taking place under blue skies and temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s. The only hiccup in the weather affected the Opening Ceremonies, pushing back the Parade of Athletes and firework display a mere 24 hours due to rain. 

Saturday seemed to be — judging by the vast turnout at the finish line of the women’s slalom — the day everyone was anticipating. It was the day Mikaela Shiffrin made her Sugarloaf debut.

And she didn’t disappoint.

The Olympic gold medalist and three-time defending World Cup slalom champion ran away with the slalom title, posting two nearly flawless runs. Shiffrin’s time of 1:33.02 bested second place by more than four seconds, the largest margin of victory of the week by a landslide. 

Shiffrin, like Vonn and many of the athletes in attendance, spent most of their week signing autographs and mingling with fans. A scheduled 45-minute autograph session Thursday went nearly twice as long as the line of fans hoping to meet their role models snaked around the inside of the base lodge, starting on the top floor and stretching all the way to the first floor entrance. 

The 2015 U.S. Alpine Championships served as a final goodbye for some athletes. Ben Morse, a Carrabassett Valley native and Carrabassett Valley Academy alum, called it a career on the mountain he’s skied countless times before. He finished 10th in his final race.

Hailey Duke decided to hang up the skis as well after a few years skiing as an independent. Duke’s career was all about overcoming adversity, as she had brain surgery in February 2013 to remove a benign tumor on her pituitary gland. A year later she was back skiing on the World Cup tour and qualified for the World Championships in 2015. Duke ended her skiing career with a fourth-place finish in the women’s slalom on Saturday. 

No athlete had a more enjoyable week than Sam Morse. Sam, Ben’s younger brother and also a CVA graduate, always had a smile on his face as he competed in the super-G, giant slalom and slalom in front of his hometown fans, who cheered every time his name was mentioned. Whether he finished 26th in the super-G, 31st in the giant slalom or 14th in the slalom, Sam Morse had the same smile on his face, signing autographs for young fans at the finish line and posing for photos. 

That’s really what it was about for the athletes: interacting with the fans that had made the trip to watch them ski. Some fans were from right down the road, but, based on some of the license plates in the always-full parking lots, some traveled great lengths just for a chance to watch the athletes they grew up idolizing. License plates from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were just some of the states represented in the crowd during the week. 

The U.S. Alpine Championships head west next year to Sun Valley, Idaho, but don’t fret New England-based skiing aficionados, it will be back in 2017 when Sugarloaf once against plays host to the best American skiers. Two years may seem like a long time to wait, but if 2015 was any indication of what 2017 may bring, the wait will be worth it.

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