FORT KENT, Maine – When ambitious youngsters from the St. John Valley don’t have enough time on the slopes, they join the Valley Racing Team.
The team, which trains at the Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent, is preparing to compete in southern Maine later in the season.
Led by a state ski champion from Madawaska, the team has doubled since last year. The intense competitive training has spurred some into futures at Carrabasset Valley Academy and is so notorious in the ski racing community for producing top athletes that it has attracted students from outside of Aroostook.
Mike Lavertu, the team’s main organizer, is excited to see more young people on the slopes.
“I always like to cite the example of the many mornings where it’s 10 below zero and Lonesome Pine Trails would otherwise be empty on a Saturday morning,” said Lavertu. “Ever since we started the Valley Racing Team nine years ago, cold Saturday mornings have been filled with little Valley Racing Team racers.”
Lavertu, 44, drove for Madawaska High School in the 1990s. He won at the state level and placed in the top five in New England.
The Valley Racers are just as competitive as he is, he said.
The formula seems to work. 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 enduring success in the sport, including several who have been accepted into the private ski and snowboard school, Carrabasset Valley Academy.
Last year, Will Roy and Kaden Theriault topped the state in their age categories, Lavertu said. Both skiers also qualified for the U16 Alpine State Championships.
Theriault, a Fort Kent Community High School junior, hopes to one day join the United States Ski Team. He credits his achievements in part to the time he spent on the Valley Racing team.
“It all started there for me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the great coaching and time I put into skiing,” he said.
The team kicked off its ninth season with a race camp at Lonesome Pine Trails in the last week of December. Because they heard about the program, 11 youngsters from Bangor came to the camp to learn from coaches who know what it takes to win races, whether they have experience coaching skiers or have been snow sports enthusiasts themselves.
The team will race at Pleasant Mountain, Sugarloaf and Sunday River ski resorts in Maine. Those who qualify will advance to a finals competition in Gunstock, New Hampshire.
With the number of racers growing rapidly, the team has increased its coaching staff and is in need of funds to support the organisation.
Lavertu will seek help to fund the team this season through fundraisers such as a ski pack raffle. The team also accepts donations. Because it is a club team, the Valley Racers do not qualify for school promotion club funds and are not funded by Lonesome Pine Trails.
The funds will provide bursaries for new coaches who will help coach the young athletes this year, Lavertu said. The coaches are college students and former Valley racers themselves.
“With all this success and interest from new children, this year we took a big step to involve parents to help with coaching. And we brought in four or five alumni [Valley Racing Team] Athletes who went through the high school program and are in college now or are about to graduate college,” Lavertu said.
Not only do Valley Racers bring home plenty of event medals, but they also benefit from being outside in the fresh air, exercising, making new friends, and practicing commitment and dedication.
For Theriault, dedication to skiing is the lesson he values most.
“The most important thing they taught me was dedication. There is no success without commitment,” Theriault said.
For more information about the Valley Racing Team, visit the group’s Facebook page.