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Kate Webber Punderson serves as head of school at Carrabassett Valley Academy.
When Liam Moffatt dons Canada’s colors at the snowboard cross on Thursday, he will be representing much more than his home country. Moffatt will send a reminder to the world that Maine is a major training ground for competitive skiing and snowboarding. In fact, Maine has had an athlete in the winter Olympics every year since 1948.
Snowboard cross is the official name for the competitive snowboard downhill event also known as “boardercross.” The thrilling sport generally involves a group of four snowboarders racing head-to-head down a course featuring banked turns, jumps, rollers, and drops.
Neither boardercross nor the 2022 Winter Olympics would be complete without “Team Maine.” Moffatt is a graduate of Carrabassett Valley Academy’s Class of 2015. He spent five formative years at Carrabassett Valley Academy and is the latest in a long line of world-renowned athletes whose training on Maine’s largest ski mountain has paid off. Situated about 2.5 hours northwest of Portland at Sugarloaf Mountain, the academy is one of the world’s premier middle and high schools for athletic training in skiing and snowboarding. As a Nova Scotia native, Moffatt is singular in his quest to win gold for Team Canada, but he is following in the footsteps of many great athletes before him.
Those footsteps have shaped the slopes of Maine forever. Moffatt was inspired by other world-class riders who honed their skills at Carrabassett Valley Academy and Sugarloaf, namely two-time Olympic champion Wescott, world champion Nikki Pilavakis-Davoren and U.S. National Team member (and current Carrabassett boardercross coach) Alex Tuttle. They are global phenoms because of the school’s unique approach to student-athlete development, balancing outstanding college preparatory academics and responsible community living, in addition to best-in-class athletic training.
It’s not just athletes who make the Winter Olympics so special. There are also four academy graduates now coaching in Beijing. Mike Day (Class of 1989) is skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s head coach. Forest Carey (Class of 1994) is the head alpine men’s coach. Nessa Dziemian (Class of 2012) is the head coach for the Brazil moguls team. And Nick Stagers (Class of 1997) is coaching an athlete on Ecuador’s alpine team.
Olympics aside, Maine’s skiing and snowboarding tradition is a large part of what makes our entire state so special and it gives us a reason to celebrate Maine winters. And you don’t have to be a world-class athlete to feel it. Every winter, hundreds of thousands of skiers and snowboarders descend on Vacationland, exploring the amenities of resorts like Sugarloaf and Sunday River. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the love of winter sports has exploded in Maine, with numerous resorts undergoing renovations to meet demand. When people from Boston and New York leave there to come here, Mainers have to appreciate the place they call home.
I sure do. As a Carrabassett Valley Academy graduate and lifelong resident of Carrabassett Valley, I was proud to compete in Division I ski racing at Middlebury College in Vermont, where I captained the ski team. After graduating, and completing an ME.d., I couldn’t wait to return to Maine and give back to our next generation of skiers and snowboarders. Carrabassett Valley feels like home to many, and not just because of the beautiful mountains. It’s the people who make Maine home — they’re the perfect combination of friendly, hard-working, gritty, tenacious and down to earth. There is plenty for Mainers to teach the next generation, and we are committed to sharing those values.
As I watch the 2022 Winter Olympics with my husband and my son Calvin, who is currently a student at Carrabassett Valley Academy, I’m flooded with a wide range of emotions. It is exciting to cheer on the academy athletes changing the world of sports. But it also makes me patriotic to celebrate Team Maine, and America’s excellence in global snow sports.
This year more than any other, let’s be proud of our state. Never take what makes us special for granted.
Correction: An earlier version of this opinion piece misspelled Nick Stagers’ last name.