While most of us are longing for winter to end, there are some who relish every snowy weekend. For me, a passion for downhill skiing is a long-forgotten part of youth. Early this month, however, the 24-year-old director of the Mt. Abram ski race program reminded me of that passion in a blizzard of enthusiasm. With barely contained excitement, Courtney Poston extolled the virtues of a great ski program. Its potential is nothing short of life-changing, she said, and I left our conversation believing her.
Courtney’s parents, both Portland natives, grew up skiing at Mt. Abram, described by Wikipedia as “a small family ski area in Greenwood, Maine.” Family is the operative word. It is the ski area’s atmosphere of shared community that seems to take hold of people such as the Postons, who came to Mt. Abram every winter with Courtney and her sister while they were growing up, to carry on the tradition.
“It’s like a second family,” said Courtney, “and my parents wanted that for my sister and me.”
Courtney started teaching skiing at Mt. Abram when she was 14, and she ended up studying the ski industry at University of Maine at Farmington beginning in 2008. Now she is the director of the race program. Her sister also does some work for the ski school, and her father is on the board of the ski club. It is still a family affair.
Courtney is part of a team of Mt. Abram employees, including assistant coach Jake Johnson, which has brought new life to Mt. Abram over the last two years. They have revamped the mission statement, cultivated relationships with local high schools and redone their timing system.
“We wanted to show everybody that Mt. Abram is a part of the racing scene,” said Courtney.
They have succeeded. The race program has grown by over a third in the last two years. The number of Mt. Abram racers at Sunday River’s annual U10-U14 ski festival went from three kids in 2014 to 20 kids this year — a 500% increase. Mt. Abram recently hosted the Leavitt High School invitational, a USA snowboard race, and the Class A skiing state championship.
“What a great two days that was!” Courtney said. “It all went well. We had no serious injuries, and it grew into a huge community-wide effort.”
Community is an essential aspect of the program’s philosophy, which aims to lead kids to “be the best person they can be,” Courtney said. “We’re a grassroots community program, committed to the three c’s: commitment, camaraderie and competition. We want kids to feel like a part of the whole Mt. Abram family.”
Courtney has an impressive maturity and insight for someone so young. When I asked her where her inspiration came from, she surprised me.
First, she said, she had an amazing mentor in college. Second, she spends five days per week teaching preschool at the Beansprouts Early Learning Childcare center in Freeport.
“I have the same philosophies in pre-K that I have for ski school. I love to help young people develop who they are and where they’re going.”
Fielding a team of respected, competitive racers is a priority for Courtney and the Mt. Abram ski program, but building a sense of belonging is at least as important. In the 10-14-year-old age group in particular, Courtney recognizes that kids often feel isolated or disconnected, either at home, in school, or both.
“I think a lot of kids find their family in skiing. It’s a place where they’re valued and accepted,” she said.
It also is a place where they spend a lot of time outdoors, getting exercise, and learning about healthy living while they learn to be a better athlete. From pre-K toddlers to pre-teens and beyond, Courtney is teaching future generations how to be the best they can be, no matter what their path.
“If I were forced to choose between producing a world cup champion or a lifelong skier,” Courtney said, “I’d take the lifelong skier.”
Ideally, though, I imagine she’d like them to be both.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.