After a dismal, nearly snowless winter last year, New England’s ski resorts are winding up a much better season. And some of its young athletes are having a pretty good run too. Fred Bever attended the U.S. Championships at Maine's Sugarloaf resort.
The season got a monster start right out of the gate, when Vermont’s Killington Ski Resort attracted the region’s first World Cup event in a quarter-century.
More than 10,000 spectators showed up, many of them to see Olympic and World Cup winner Mikaela Shiffrin, a graduate of Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, race in the women’s slalom.
As you can hear [cheering, cowbells] she won.
Now – near the end of a season that’s seen some big snow, some big thaws, and then more snow, a handful of younger New England skiers are making some noise.
Two weeks ago, Alice Merryweather, a Hingham, Mass., native who learned to ski at New Hampshire’s Attitash Mountain, won the junior world downhill championship in Are, Sweden. It’s the World Cup for skiers 20 or under.
On the men’s side, Maine native Sam Morse, a Sugarloaf skier since before he was two - and trained there by skiing legend Bode Miller’s former coach - took the downhill gold. This week, they are both racing in the U.S. Championships at Sugarloaf.
“So the downhill is the fastest kind of least controlled setting that we race.” Sitting in his father’s furniture store – located on the Mountain’s downslope, Morse describes his favorite event. “There’s high speeds and some big jumps. It definitely takes technical ability - and some courage.”
A few minutes later, Alice Merryweather joins the conversation – she and Morse have known each other a decade, skiing in the regional, national and now international circuits together. It’s pretty remarkable, she says, that they’re both winning the speed races.
“Yeah it’s unbelievable, especially being from the East Coast you don’t see a lot of speed skiers out of the East. So to have the two world junior downhill champions be from small mountains in the East is pretty cool.”
"That was really exciting that day," Morse says, "because they raced in the morning, and we raced after them. So I got to watch Alice win and then, like, watch her on the podium and sing the national anthem and stuff. So it was inspiring for me and I was like, "All right, it would be really cool if we could do this,' and then to come down in the lead was...unbelievable.”
At Sugarloaf Saturday, Merryweather disqualified when she skied off course in the super–G, a turnier race than the downhill.
Morse fared better, taking an early lead in the men’s super-G. At the finish line he gamely took media questions about his style.
“It’s pretty much all subconscious at this point," he said. "You don’t have time to really think. You execute tactically, but skiing-wise it’s either there or it’s not at this time of year. You have to just be going with what you have and what your body knows.”
As that interview was unfolding, another competitor was racing down the course to what would prove the winning time: It was Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who learned to ski in Richmond, Vermont, from his mother, Barbara Ann Cochran, winner of Olympic skiing gold in 1972.
This new generation of New England stars have two more days of national championship races in Maine. Look for them in Europe next winter, and maybe, back at Killington. U.S. ski officials say a deal’s almost done to bring the World Cup back there next year.
This story was produced for the New England News Collaborative.