U.S. Ski Team members and a bunch of hopefuls will be arriving this week at Sugarloaf for the U.S. National Alpine Championships, which get underway Friday with downhill training.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

A series such as this always starts with the downhill. The Narrow Gauge trail will be groomed into a smooth, fast surface before the training starts and will be ready for the required training runs before Friday. The normal sequence is downhills, followed by super-G. Downhill and super-G don’t chew up the trail like the gate races, which is why they are first on the schedule.

Watching the races is easiest by standing near the finish. There is very limited trailside viewing for those on skis. There will be some space near the top of the high side of the Double Runner chair. It’s also easy to ski from the double runner down to the finish. Simply ski down Boardwalk and cross through the woods to the finish arena.

If it’s like past Nationals, there will be a jumbotron at the finish showing the racers on the course and the results. That’s where you will find me if I make the event. It’s not a bad walk from the base area.

The question on everyone’s mind is which members of the U.S. Ski Team will be present. These championships don’t carry the importance to team members as the Olympics or World Cup, but team members like to have U.S. National titles on their resume.

Naturally, everyone is hoping Mikaela Shiffrin will be on hand. As our top-ranked skier, we all want to see her compete as she did the last time the Nationals were held at Sugarloaf.

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Of course, locals want to know if we have some Maine skiers to watch. We do, but first we should take a look at the history of the event. To show that the championships are open to more than just U.S. skiers, the list of past champions show that in 1966, none other than Jean Claude Killy won the GS. For those who weren’t aware of his record, this was the year before he swept all three season-long disciplines to win the first World Cups in 1967, when he had all three sewed up by mid-January. And, of course, he went on to win all three gold medals in the 1968 Olympics. But Maine skiers have also made their mark in the National Alpines. In 1978, Karl Anderson won the National downhill title. Gail Blackburn won the downhill in 1980. Julie Parisien won the combined in 1990 and the super-G in 1991.

Kirsten Clark of Raymond, a student at Carrabassett Valley Academy, has the most impressive record at this event. After winning the combined in 1996, Kirsten started a string of four straight downhill titles in 1998. She finished her career by winning her seventh downhill crown at Sugarloaf in 2006.

The first competition will be the Nor-Am finals, to end this season-long competition. The U.S. National Championships will follow. For the exact schedule, go to sugarloaf.com.

To get an idea on who to watch locally, I checked with Kirk Dwyer, CVA tech director and coach, and learned that CVA does have some promising skiers entered. One is Ella Steer, a CVA grad now skiing for Colby. She qualified for the NCAA finals and could do well at this event. Another is Althea Noyes from Yarmouth, in the speed events. Obviously, with a student body from all over, it’s not surprising that a skier from Ontario is among those to watch. Abby Byers is having a good year and could do well. For Dwyer, CVA is almost a homecoming. After coaching at Burke Mountain Academy and Vail, he is happy to be back in Maine after growing up in Brunswick.

One skier Sugarloafers will be watching closely is Sam Morse, a U.S. team member who will be returning to his home mountain for the championships.

One group which deserves mention is the Sugarloaf Ski Club. Without the hundreds of volunteers club members provide, it’s unlikely the event could happen. Few ski clubs anywhere match Sugarloaf when it comes to supporting the mountain, its programs and events. And I’m sure many of today’s Sugarloafers are unaware of the role the club has played over the years. Those who have read the late John Christie’s excellent book, “The Sugarloaf Story,” know that the ski area was actually started by the ski club.

Every major race has seen volunteers performing every tasks from handing out bibs, to gatekeeping and other course maintenance. I remember asking Bill Marolt, head of the ski team, at one of these championships about this aspect and he replied that this was a major consideration in awarding the event to the resort. The Sugarloaf Ski Club has been a key factor in that confidence in the ability of the resort to pull it all off, and they will be involved from start to finish in the 2022 National Championships. They are part of a team that includes every employee, and all will be part of the effort to make this year’s competition a success.

See you at the ‘Loaf.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected]


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