Growing up in Carrabassett Valley was hard for Kate Webber Punderson — who couldn’t ignore the towering peak of Sugarloaf Mountain that stood above the town.

So naturally she gravitated toward skiing.

That pull never let her venture too far from the mountain for too long, and like many skiers and snowboarders who take to the mountain, it was a place where dreams were conceived.

Well, Punderson’s dream finally came true a few weeks ago. The Head of School at Carrabassett Valley Academy, who is just completing her fifth year in the role, has seen the fruits of her labor receive recognition. For the first time, CVA has been named the Club of the Year by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. CVA also won the Snowboarding Club of the Year award for the first time.

“They mean a tremendous amount to the school,” Punderson said of the two awards. “The academy and the supporting programs at the Sugarloaf Ski Club and Sugarloaf resort have been working hard for 30-plus years to provide exceptional programming to youth in skiing and snowboarding. And to be recognized by our sports’ national governing body as Club of the Year really just means the world to us.

“This Club of the Year award has been a dream of mine for a long, long time. And so to have received it is really a dream-come-true for me personally.”

Punderson said CVA’s strong athletic results across all three of its programs — Alpine, snowboard and freestyle — had a lot to do with winning the award. That goes for both current students, who start as young as age 8, to alumni who have gone on to success at the NorAm, World Cup and X Games levels. An ever-growing relationships with the Sugarloaf Ski Club and resort has helped aid that success.

CVA is just the third program in the East to win the award since 1998, a fact that Punderson is proud of. She said programs in the East have a storied tradition and conditions similar to those on the World Cup circuit in Europe — something she sees as an advantage for CVA students with World Cup goals.

“It is rare that (the award) comes to the East. So for us to be able to represent the strength of snow sports and snow sports competition and development at the junior level for the East is a great honor,” Punderson said. “The East has some unbelievable programs, and to be able to recognized as the top one in the East and the country is just awesome.”

The academy has previously won a Freestyle Club of the Year award, and now can add the Snowboarding Club of the Year award to its mantle. Support from Olympic snowboarding champion Seth Wescott, a CVA alum and Board of Trustees member, has been a big boost to that program.

“The biggest thing is our boardercross program,” Punderson said. “With the help of Seth Wescott being a Sugarloafer and a CVA alum, and his success in snowboardcross, our program here at the academy has really taken off the last few years.”

Sugarloaf keeps a snowboardcross up all season, and Punderson said the program has strong numbers and draws from all over the country and Canada. Having a snowboardcross legend like Wescott around doesn’t hurt.

“Whenever he is back at Sugarloaf, he always rides with our kids,” Penderson sadi. “He remains very connected to our coaches and is very supportive of the program.”

Punderson has had some lofty goals since taking over as Head of School back in 2011. Besides the Club of the Year award, Punderson also has pushed for improvements in both the athletic and academic programs. The academy has already built a new academic center during her tenure, and this summer Sugarloaf is building a $2 million competition center.

Also new to the school is Kraig Sourbeer as its alpine program director. Sourbeer is a former World Cup skiier and U.S. Ski Team coach.

“I’m very excited to welcome Kraig on board,” Punderson said. “He brings a unique set of experience and knowledge as a U.S. Ski Team athlete himself. He has competed at that highest level, so he understands what it takes. He had that dream as a kid, just like our students have that dream, and he was able to meet that.”

As CVA’s Head of School, it is Punderson’s job to make dreams become a reality. She has done just that, and hopes to continue to do that with her next goal: strengthening the academy’s scholarship program so more skiers can chase their own dreams.

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