CARRABASSETT VALLEY — It can be seen as an affordable opportunity to substitute television and computer games with fresh air and exercise.

The Sugarloaf Regional Ski Educational Foundation has funded the Ski/Skate Program for SAD 58 elementary school students for the past 52 years. The Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club supports and promotes the program, which was started by the late G. Norton Luce.

Participants pay $5 per session for equipment and lessons with Perfect Turn Ski School instructors.

“It’s also a great way for kids to learn a sport they can enjoy for life,” said Bruce Miles, executive director of the Ski Club.

On a sunny day last week, three generations of one local family shared the program’s lasting impact on their lives. Carrabassett Valley Fire Chief Courtney Knapp began in 1965, when the program began for students in Strong, Phillips and Kingfield high schools.

“I was in the last graduating class of Phillips High School in 1969,” Knapp said. 

Today, he and his wife, Deborah, volunteer with the program. Their daughter Amanda Knapp Wilkins participated throughout elementary school, and she now teaches in the district, as did her mother. Her son, Michael, 10, and daughter Brooke, 6, are participants from Phillips Elementary School. The program is extremely popular, she said.

“Only one student didn’t come today,” she said.

In the fall, children from Kingfield, Strong and Phillips can choose to take lessons in downhill or cross-country skiing, skating, snowboarding or snowshoeing. During winter months, youngsters spend an afternoon each week at Sugarloaf Mountain, practicing the basics of their chosen sport. Instructors keep them in tight formation, far from the older and more experienced athletes whizzing past them down the slopes.

This year, 102 district students signed up for the Ski/Skate Program. Costs for transportation and other related expenses are offset by Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club’s grant of $500 to each school.

Some Ski/Skate program graduates have become local and national celebrities. Now a head coach for the U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Team, Alex Tuttle of Stratton was a member of the U.S. Snowboard National Team and a silver medalist in the Junior World Snowboardcross Championships. Sugarloafer Sam Morse’s legendary skiing career includes a gold medal in the Junior World Downhill championship in Are, Sweden. He’ll return to Sugarloaf to compete in the U.S. Alpine Speed Championships in March.

The program encourages young skiers to volunteer or work in the ski industry. Tristan Frye, assistant manager of the rental shop, is one of those who started as a ski/skater in elementary school. He fell in love with snowboarding and skiing, and it’s still a big part of his life.

“No one in my family skied, so this was something that introduced me to winter sports,” he said. “I joined the Mt. Abram High School ski team and my dad got me a season pass to Saddleback.”

Today, Frye is an assistant manager at the Sugarloaf rental shop. He is finishing his outdoor recreation business administration degree, with a minor in Alpine operations at the University of Maine at Farmington. He also teaches the children’s Snow Cats ski program at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington.

 

Carrabassett Valley Fire Chief Courtney Knapp, his daughter, Amanda Knapp Wilkins, and her children, Michael, 10, and daughter Brooke, 6, have all participated in the Sugarloaf Ski/Skate Program. (Valerie Tucker photo)

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