Josh Smith of Mt. Blue switches from Nordic gear to Alpine gear partway through skiing practice Friday at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Competing in four contrasting ski events offers Josh Smith and Nick Bancroft the opportunity to test their mettle on the cold slopes and earn the coveted title of skimeister.

But the number of high school skiers interested in participating in the skimeister challenge continues to decline for a variety of reasons — in fact, the competition is no longer held at state championships but instead relegated to conference titles like the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships.

Skimeister competition is no easy challenge for the most accomplished skier, who must compete in Alpine’s giant slalom and slalom and Nordic’s skate and classical events over a two-day period at conference championships. Anybody who competes in all four competitions is considered a skimeister. The winner of the skimeister challenge is the skier with the lowest amount of points based on their combined finishes in the four events.

Smith was the 2020 KVAC skimeister champion, a year after his brother, Sam, earned the honor. Mt. Blue’s Jack Kearing won the conference’s crown in 2021.

“Now in 2019-2020, Josh won with a skimeister point total of 45 points,” Cyr said. “Last year, Jack won it with a total of 15 points. (Kearing) got a first (in slalom), a first (in GS), fifth (in freestyle) and an eighth (in classic). That is a low score. Fifteen is very low. The lower the score the better. If you get a first, that is one point. So you add up those points — eight, five, one, one and that is a total of 15 (for Kearing).”

‘A LITTLE UPSETTING’

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Bancroft considers competing in the skimeister event a great opportunity to challenge himself.

“It wasn’t as much for me about being recognized as skimeister as it was just doing it and proving to myself that I could do it,” Bancroft, a senior at Oxford Hills, said. “It would be more cool if it was more popular and I had more skimeister competition, but honestly, I try not think about it.”

Nick Bancroft of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School burns down the giant slalom course during the KVAC boys Alpine ski championships at Black Mountain in Rumford in March 2021. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

But there has been long, slow decline in the number of skiers who want to become the skimeister champ.

“It is a little upsetting because I enjoy both of them a lot,” Smith, a Mt. Blue senior, said. “I think people should be able to enjoy both Alpine and Nordic.”

According to Maine Principals’ Association Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson, skimeister won’t be returning as a state championship event.

“We removed that a few years back,” Bisson said. “We used to have it, but when we dropped to two classes in Alpine and had three in Nordic, there was kind of not a good way to decide on that.

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“(There) used to be the Class B skimeister and the Class A skimeister, but when you went to three classes in one and two in the other, it was time for that to go away. To be honest with you, you didn’t have a lot of kids competing in both anymore. No, I don’t think there is interest on our committee to have (skimeister) come back.”

Bisson added that, logistically, it became impossible to make the program work at state championships.

“We were getting fewer and fewer options for vacation week,” Bisson said. “Being able to host two (events) at the same time, we’ve tried to work around that as much as possible, knowing that there are kids … that participate in Alpine and Nordic, but to recognize an overall skimeister, we moved away from that.”

Josh Smith participates in a game of Sharks and Minnows on “Fun Day Friday” with the Mt. Blue ski team at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

‘A LOST ART’

Mt. Blue Alpine ski coach Mark Cyr and Oxford Hills Alpine skipper Tim Hutchisen are big supporters of the skimeister competition, and they lament that skiers are shying away from it. Cyr isn’t sure what the future holds for skimeisters.

“I am not sure it has the sustainability, to tell you the truth,” Cyr said. “There is so few kids doing it right now. … (Skimeister) is kind of dying, and it is too bad because some of the old-time boys will tell you that it was an expectation years ago that everyone would do all four events. That is just not there anymore.

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“There are some kids that are doing it, but there are even fewer kids who are good at it.”

Cyr points the finger at the growing trend of high school athletes focusing on one sport as one of the explanations for why skimeister has lost its popularity.

“There are skiers who specialize in either Alpine or Nordic,” he said. “Maybe the Alpine skiing — I can speak on behalf of the Alpine — but maybe the Alpine skiing is better. We are seeing better skiing than years ago, but I just think (skimeister) is a lost art. The kid that comes out a skimeister, I think, is a better person overall (and) as a result … they know how to manage their time. They know how to take care of their equipment.

“There is a lot that goes along with being a skimeister. It is time management. That is a huge part of it — (and) talk about the equipment that a kid has to take care of. Alpine alone is hard enough, and I am sure Nordic is hard enough, but when you ask a kid to take care of two pairs of Alpine skis and two pairs of Nordic skis and the poles … and just the logistics is huge.”

Hutchisen adds that competing in both disciplines is an expensive proposition.

“It costs money,” he said. “To be skimeister, you need Alpine slalom, Alpine GS, Nordic skate, Nordic classic (skis). It adds a lot more equipment to the equation.”

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Cyr watched his daughter Kyle become a skimeister as an eighth-grader in a junior high state meet.

“For a skimeister, the perfect score is a four. You need a first, a first, a first and a first,” Cyr said. “She got all four, and that doesn’t happen anymore. Even now, when you have a skimeister, they are usually better in one than the other.”

Cyr said that coaches schedule the two-day events at the same ski resorts to make it more convenient for skimeisters to compete. So, both Alpine and Nordic competitions were either scheduled at Black Mountain one day and at Titcomb Mountain the next day.

Josh Smith of Mt. Blue participates in practice at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington on Friday. Smith, a senior, was the 2019-20 KVAC skimeister champion. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

However, the upcoming KVACs are scheduled at two different ski areas this season, and that presents a problem.

“The first day of the KVACs are at Black (Mountain) and the Nordic is at Sugarloaf,” Cyr said. “There is no way that they can do both. Logistically, they are not going to be able to get from Black Mountain to Sugarloaf to do the Nordic in the afternoon. We are trying to fix something at the KVACs. …  We messed it up somehow, and I know there is a bunch of emails bouncing around trying to fix it. Normally, first our  conference championships is at Black (where) have giant slalom and then one of the cross countries, and the second day is slalom at Titcomb and the other cross country event.”

“(Josh) is willing to put the time,” Cyr added. “Josh and Sam, his older brother, (understand) time management, staying on top of things (and) also logistically, making sure their equipment is ready.”

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He adds that Josh Smith is a silent team leader who leads by example and with a positive attitude.

“When he comes to practice, he is all work,” Cyr said. “There is no goofing around. You can joke with him when he finishes a run …”

Cyr said he doesn’t bring up the skimeister competition to skiers on his team, but if one of them expresses a desire to take on the challenge, he’s all for it.

“When they come to me at the high school, if they are willing to be skimeister, I say, ‘By all means, go for it,'” Cyr said. “With Josh and Sam, I (did) not discourage it in any way. I think it is a cool thing.”

STAYING WITH THE PROGRAM

Josh Smith and Bancroft know being a skimeister places huge demands on their time, but they still believe it is a worthwhile venture.

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“I think I prefer Alpine. Nordic has grown on me, but right now Alpine is definitely enjoyable — especially slalom,” Smith said. “It definitely gets stressful throughout the season. It just builds and builds, but typically at the end of the season, it gets difficult with KVACs — when I have two major races in one day. I have to rush from one race to another, and it gets more stressful than taxing. But I have just got used to it and it has become normal for me, but I really don’t know how normal it is for others.”

Nick Bancroft of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School cross blocks a gate during high school slalom race at Lost Valley in Auburn in February 2021. Bancroft placed fifth in the boys race with a two-run combined time of 1:08.15. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

Bancroft said he enjoys both disciplines and is glad he had the opportunity to do both this season.

“There was no way I wouldn’t do Alpine skiing, and Nordic skiing is just so good for me in so many ways,” Bancroft said. “If there was a way to do both, I was going to do it. Well, they are really different sports. Alpine skiing is a lot more adrenaline and more nervousness. … Alpine skiing, you have to be tough for 35 seconds. Nordic skiing, you have to be tough for 18 minutes. They are way different sports, and the difference in them I like.”

Bancroft wants to leave it all out there on the slopes his senior year — especially after he stepped away from skimeister competition his sophomore and junior years to take harder courses to prepare for college.

“It is definitely draining,” he said. “By the end of the season, I am definitely ready for a break. But during the season, I definitely like the challenge. It definitely keeps my head on straight with school (and) making sure I have my grades up.”

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