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Skimeister’s future remains on a downward slope

Mt. Blue’s Josh Smith switches from Nordic gear to alpine gear midway through Friday’s ski practice at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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

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

The Skimeister competition is no easy challenge for the most accomplished skier, who must compete in giant slalom and alpine slalom and Nordic skating and classic over a two-day period during the conference championships. Anyone who participates in all four competitions is considered a skimeister. The winner of the skimeister challenge is the skier with the lowest number of points based on their combined results in all four events.

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

“Now in 2019-20, Josh has won with a total of 45 skimeister points,” Cyr said. “Last year Jack won it with a total of 15 points. (Kearing) got first (in slalom), first (in GS), fifth (in freestyle) and eighth (in classic) “That’s a low score. Fifteen is very little. The lower the score, the better. If you get a first, it’s a point. So you add up those points – eight, five, one, one and that makes a total of 15 (for Kearing).”

‘A LITTLE DISTURBING’

Bancroft views competing in the skimeister event as a great opportunity to challenge themselves.

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

Nick Bancroft of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School burns down the giant slalom course during the KVAC Boys Alpine Skiing Championships at Black Mountain in Rumford in March 2021. File photo by Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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

“It’s kind of upsetting because I really like both of them,” said Smith, a senior at Mt. Blue. “I think people should be able to enjoy both alpine and nordic sports.”

According to Maine Principals’ Association Deputy Executive Director Mike Bisson, skimeister will not be returning as a state championship event.

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

“(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. To be honest with you, you didn’t have many kids competing in either. No, I don’t think our committee is interested in (skimeister) coming back.

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

“We had fewer and fewer options for the vacation week,” Bisson said. “Being able to run two (events) at the same time, we tried to circumvent that as much as possible, knowing that there are children … who participate in the Alpine and the Nordic, but to recognize an overall skimeister, we have distant from this.”

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. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

“A LOST ART”

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

“I’m not sure he has the durability, to tell you the truth,” Cyr said. “There are so few kids doing it right now. … (Skimeister) is dying, and that’s a shame because some of the old boys will tell you that years ago everyone was expected to do all four events. It’s just not there anymore.

“There are kids doing it, but there are even fewer kids doing it well.”

Cyr points to the growing tendency of high school athletes to focus on one sport as one of the reasons the skimeister has lost popularity.

“There are skiers who specialize either in alpine or in nordic,” he said. “Maybe alpine skiing – I can speak on behalf of Alpine – but maybe alpine skiing is better. We see better skiing than years ago, but I just think (skimeister) is a lost art. The kid who comes out as 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 gear.

“There are a lot of things that go along with being a skimeister. It’s time management. That’s a big part of that – (and) talking about the gear a kid has to take care of. Alpine alone is hard enough, and I’m sure Nordic is hard enough, but when you ask a child to take care of two pairs of alpine skis and two pairs of Nordic skis and the poles… and the logistics alone are enormous.

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

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

Cyr saw his daughter Kyle become a skimeister when she was in eighth grade during a junior high meet.

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

Cyr said coaches schedule the two-day events at the same ski resorts to make it easier for skimeisters to compete. Thus, the alpine and nordic competitions were either scheduled at Black Mountain one day and at Titcomb Mountain the next.

Mt. Blue’s Josh Smith takes part in practice at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington on Friday. Smith, a senior, was the 2019-20 KVAC skimeister champion. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

However, the next KVACs are scheduled in two different ski areas this season, and this poses a problem.

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

“(Josh) is ready to put in the time,” Cyr added. “Josh and Sam, his older brother, (understanding) time management, staying on top of (and) also logistics, making sure their gear is ready.

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

“When it comes to training, he’s all the work,” Cyr said. “There is no gaffe. You can joke with him when he finishes a race…”

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

“When they come to me in high school, if they agree to be a skimeister, I tell them, ‘By all means, go for it,'” Cyr said. “With Josh and Sam, I (didn’t) discourage him in any way. I think that’s a cool thing.

STAY WITH THE PROGRAM

Josh Smith and Bancroft know that being a skimeister takes a lot of their time, but they still believe it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

“I think I prefer Alpine. Nordic grew on me, but right now Alpine is really nice – especially slalom,” Smith said. “It definitely gets stressful throughout the season. It just builds and builds, but usually at the end of the season it gets tough with the KVACs – when I have two major races in one day. I have to rush from race to race, and it becomes more stressful than painful. But I just got used to it and it became 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 the 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. File photo by Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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

“There was no way I wasn’t downhill skiing, and Nordic skiing is 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, those are really different sports. Alpine skiing is much more adrenaline and more nervousness. … Alpine skiing, you have to be strong for 35 seconds. Nordic skiing, you have to be strong for 18 minutes. They are very different sports, and I like their difference.

Bancroft wants to leave it all there on the slopes in his senior year – especially after stepping away from skimeister competition his sophomore and junior years to take tougher courses to prepare for college.

“It’s definitely exhausting,” he said. “By the end of the season, I’m definitely ready for a break. But during the season, I really like the challenge. It definitely allows me to keep a cool head with school (and) make sure that my grades are high.


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