CARRABASSETT VALLEY — For well over 50 years, area elementary school students have been given the opportunity to enjoy outdoor winter-time activities at Sugarloaf through the Ski/Skate program.

Kingfield Elementary School second grade student Abby Demshar skates at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center in Carrabassett Valley Thursday, Feb. 13. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal

Once a week, for six weeks, students from School Administrative District 58 schools in Phillips, Strong and Kingfield, and Stratton School in Eustis leave school early and head to the slopes for alpine skiing or snowboarding, or the Outdoor Center for Nordic skiing or ice skating.  Each school takes part in the program on a different weekday. Students choose which discipline to sign up for.

The program started as a ski program sometime during the mid-1960s, according to history provided by Sugarloaf Ski Club’s Executive Director Bruce Miles.

The late Norton Luce, who was club president at the time, served on the United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association Board of Directors. After returning from a USEASA annual meeting, he told his wife about a conversation with a fellow board member.

The fellow owned a ski shop in Pennsylvania and had said all his old kids’ skis were going to the dump when he got back from the meeting. Norton’s wife, Jean, refused to let that happen and had the inventory shipped to Sugarloaf.

According to history, Jean split the skis between Kingfield and Stratton schools. The stipulation was the skis had to be distributed as a loan and returned at the end of each season so they could be passed on to others the following year.

Stratton already had a parents’ organization in place to handle the distribution. Kingfield did not, so Jean took it upon herself to start one.

The ski club organized instructors to provide lessons and hot chocolate at the cost of $1 per day.

Outdoor Center activities began being offered in the 1970s after the center was built.

These days, the cost is $5 per day but it still includes rentals, lessons, a lift ticket, hot chocolate, a cookie and lots of fun.

“Watch me spin,” said Kingfield Elementary School student Anna Swallow Thursday, Feb. 13 at the Outdoor Center.

Sugarloaf Ambassador Tina Pratico of Falmouth and Carrabassett Valley watched and offered a helpful hint. “Keep your head up,” she said.

Elsewhere on the ice, students raced each other and their teachers.

The Sugarloaf Ski Club, through a fund set up in memory of Norton Luce, provides $500 per year to each of the schools to assist students with the expense of the program, Miles said.

About 300 students take part in the program each week, Miles said.

“It’s such a rewarding program to be a part of,” said Noelle Tuttle, Sugarloaf marketing and communications manager. “Sugarloaf was founded by a couple of young locals, so being able to provide that same experience to local school-aged kids, who might otherwise not have the opportunity to do so, is part of what makes our mountain community so special.”

While the school program started because club members were concerned local children were not getting involved in skiing, now the concern is those children are not getting enough of an opportunity to ski. Last year, a new program was added to give those skiers more time on the slopes.

Kingfield Elementary School student Abby Demshar gives her classmate Anna Swallow a few pointers Thursday, Feb. 13, during the Ski/Skate program at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center in Carrabassett Valley. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal

“We want kids to have a culture of getting out to ski,” Miles said. “Some kids might not be able to have the means to ski or ride except for the six afternoons they have ski/skate.”

The new program was launched with a $500,000 gift from the H. King and Jean Cummings Charitable Fund. This gift was used as the foundation of an endowment fund for King’s Kids, an initiative to help kids 15 and under in Franklin and Somerset counties learn to alpine ski, snowboard, and Nordic ski.

“King’s Kids funds the Boomauger program,” Miles said. “It is a bridge for kids who only get to ski six times a year to get more skiing or riding time.

“We asked Sugarloaf to come up with a break-even cost to make that happen.”

The 8-week Sunday afternoon program includes rentals, lift tickets and instruction for $50. The ski club foots the remainder of the $200 bill.

“Last year, we had 61 kids in the program. This year, we have 84,” Miles said.

Boomauger is offered to students from Rangeley as well as the Ski/Skate partner schools.

“Since King’s Kid is geographical, we will go to Saddleback when it opens to see if a similar break-even program can be created for Rangeley kids at their home mountain.”

King’s Kids supported youth skiing at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, Spruce Mountain Ski Area in Jay, and Baker Mountain in Moscow by providing funds to offset the cost of youth tickets over February break.

The ski club does not run any of the programs.

“Our involvement is on a support basis only,” Miles said.

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