Sam Morse gets some air in the first of two jumps at the World Pro Ski tour double slalom course qualifying runs at Sunday River in Newry. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

NEWRY — Sam Morse knows how to go down Sunday River’s Monday Mourning trail about as fast as anyone ever has. But put a fellow racer next to him and the Carrabassett Valley Academy grad and U.S. National team member has some questions. 

“I was struggling with that today because you kind of want to know where he is and see him, but you don’t want to see him because that means you’re losing to him,” Morse said.

This weekend’s Visit Maine Pro Ski Championships served as an invigorating way for Morse to wind down a memorable ski season that included four World Cup starts. But he wasn’t the only one learning on the fly at Friday’s time trials.

“We’re all at the start discussing different tactics and theories and trying to figure out what’s fastest here,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

After 80 runs, including the World Pro Ski Tour’s first-ever female competitors, the seeds are set for Saturday’s elimination round, which start at 11 a.m.

U.S. Olympian Mark Engel of Truckee, California earned the top seed with the best time of the day, 25.73 seconds, on his second run after he went off course in his first.

Boston College senior Connor Robertson of York emerged as the surprise No. 2 seed by finishing .03 of a second behind Engel on his second run. Michael Ankeny of Wayzata, Minn. had the third-best time, 25.78. He trails U.S. Olympian Nolan Kasper of Warren, Vt. by one point for the overall championship on the final stop of the three-leg tour.

Morse was part of a notable Dartmouth contingent in the field, many of whom were trying dual skiing for the first time, including NCAA All-American Brian McLaughlin of Topsfield, Mass. 

“It definitely takes getting used to,” said McLaughlin, a senior at Darmouth who made his World Cup debut in Colorado last December. “I haven’t skied too many dual slaloms like this, but it’s a lot of fun.”

McLaughlin’s Dartmouth teammate Foreste Peterson, who also made her World Cup debut this season, skied the best time in the new women’s division, 27.10 (just .18 behind McLaughlin), in her second run. 

“I have (tried this) a couple of times, in New Zealand this year and then just some panel slalom training,” she said. “Since today was just a qualifying round, I was just trying to get a good feeling for the snow and the course set and also the jumps, because those are a little difficult for me. I think I handled them alright.”

Like many of the racers, Peterson encountered something different about the race before she even started. Accustomed to a wand start, she and other racers stood behind a bar waiting for the starter’s signal.

“That’s going to be a big ticket for tomorrow, nailing your start,” she said. “You really want to make sure you time it so you’re pushing out as (the gates) open. There’s a fine line between going too soon and not soon enough.”

Peterson said demand for a women’s bracket rose quickly after the World Pro Ski Tour held its inaugural race at Sunday River last year. 

“I’m friends with a lot of the guys who have been racing and they asked for my input, and I said, ‘Yeah, definitely. The girls want to race,'” she said. 

Eight women competed in the inaugural race and will begin their elimination bracket on Saturday afternoon once the men’s bracket whittles down from the round of 32 to round of 8.

Peterson hopes to see the field grow next year, and for the purse to match the men’s $30,000, with $10,000 for the winner.

“It’s nice to feel like we’re wanted here,” said Peterson, who is a senior at Dartmouth. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction that they have a women’s bracket.”

Masen Kasper decided to join older brother, Nolan, at Sunday River, but not to cheer him on. It was his first time since youth snow duals that he’d raced competitively in the format.

“I really feel like I have to ski a bit more aggressive (on Saturday),” he said. “Today, I kind of just made it down and I realized that I skied a little bit too conservative. I could definitely push it a bit more.”

While Kasper didn’t get a chance to race each other on Friday, Alec and Ace Tarberry of North Conway, N.H. went head-to-head in the first qualifying run in the tour’s previous event at Waterville Valley last month.

A former U.S. National team member, most recently in 2012, Ace said the tour is a perfect way to stoke the competitive fires again. 

“It’s just a great way to show up and race against high-level racers without having to do it year-round,” said Ace, who is 30. 

Rain and warm weather softened the snow on Thursday morning, but skiers said salt applied before the first run held and made conditions better throughout a sunny afternoon.

A marked difference in the times between the red and blue courses became apparent during the first run. The red course produced the vast majority of the best times, something organizers expect to correct for Saturday.

“The blue one was definitely a bit more turny,” Kasper said. “On the red one, you could just pin it, so you had a little bit more speed.”

Sam Ricker of Turner finished 27th with a combined time of 59.30. Dartmouth junior Alex Dlouhy, a Montreal native, is the No. 2 seed in the women’s race. 

Maddy Packard skis down the first of two dual slalom runs at the World Pro Ski Tour qualifying runs on Friday afternoon at Sunday River. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)Jay Oglr gets some air in the first of two jumps at the World Pro Ski tour double slalom course qualifying runs at Sunday River in Newry. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)Carter Robertson and and AJ Ginnis start off neck and neck during the second run of the dual slalom event at the World Pro Ski Tour at Sunday River on Friday afternoon. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)


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