Youngsters that are part of the Valley Racing Team take to the fresh snow. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine When competitive St. John Valley youngsters can’t get enough time on the slopes, they join Valley Racing Team.

The team, which practices at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent, is preparing to compete in races across southern Maine later in the season.

Led by a state skiing champ from Madawaska, the team has doubled in size since last year. The intense competitive training has spurred some toward a future at the Carrabassett Valley Academy, and is so notorious in the ski racing community for producing top athletes that it has drawn students from beyond Aroostook.

Mike Lavertu, the team’s principal organizer, is inspired to see more young people on the slopes.

“I always like to use the example of the many mornings that it’s 10 degrees below zero and Lonesome Pine Trails would otherwise be empty on a Saturday morning,” Lavertu said. “Since we started Valley Racing Team nine years ago, cold Saturday mornings are full of little Valley Racing Team racers.”

Lavertu, 44, raced for Madawaska High School back in the 1990s. He won at the state level and placed in the top five in New England.

The Valley Racers are every bit as competitive as he was, he said.

The formula seems to be working. Team numbers have grown from an average of 25-30 skiers to 52 athletes this season.  

Students who have trained with the team often find ongoing success in the sport, including several who have been accepted to the private ski and snowboard school Carrabassett Valley Academy.

Last year, Will Roy and Kaden Theriault were ranked top in the state for their age categories, Lavertu said. Both skiers also qualified for the U 16 National Alpine Championships.

Theriault, a junior from Fort Kent Community High School, hopes to join the United States Ski Team one day. He credits his achievements in part to time spent on Valley Racing Team.

Kids in the Valley Racing Team test out their gear. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

“It’s where it all started for me. If it weren’t for the great coaching and the time put into skiing, I would not be here,” he said.

The team kicked off its ninth season with a race camp at Lonesome Pine Trails the last week of December. Because they had heard of the program, 11 youth from Bangor came to the camp to learn from coaches who know what it takes to win races, because they have experience training skiers or used to be winter athletes themselves.

The team will race at Maine ski resorts Pleasant Mountain, Sugarloaf and Sunday River. Those who qualify will advance to a finals competition at Gunstock, New Hampshire.

With the number of racers rapidly increasing, the team has increased its coaching staff and is in need of funding to support the organization.

Lavertu will seek help to fund the team this season through fundraisers such as a ski package raffle. The team also accepts donations. Because it’s a club team, the Valley Racers do not qualify for school booster club funds and are not financed by Lonesome Pine Trails.

Funds will provide stipends to new coaches who are helping to train the young athletes this year, Lavertu said. The coaches are college students and former Valley Racers themselves.

“With all this success and interest of new kids joining, this year we have made a big push to involve parents to help coach. And we have brought in four to five former [Valley Racing Team] athletes who went through the high school program and are now in college or graduating from college soon,” Lavertu said.  

The Valley Racers not only bring home many event medals, but benefit from being outside in the fresh air, getting exercise, making new friends, and practicing commitment and dedication.

For Theriault, the devotion to skiing is the lesson he appreciates most.

“The most important thing that they taught me was to be dedicated. Without dedication there is no success,” Theriault said.

For more information about Valley Racing Team check out the group’s Facebook page.