Amy Gifford, a 2007 graduate of Maranacook High in Readfield, returned to her old carving grounds Monday afternoon. Now a junior at the University of Massachusetts majoring in pre-veterinary medicine, Gifford is missing a few labs this week to compete in the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association national championships.

Nordic events are being held at Black Mountain in Rumford, and Alpine events are at Sunday River in Newry. Races begin today and run through Saturday.

“There’s an opening ceremony with a banquet, and a closing ceremony with a banquet,” Gifford said. “It’s like the Olympics, kind of.”

Last year’s championships in Winter Park, Colo., drew college skiers and boarders from 68 schools across six regions of the country. Darcy Liberty, director of communications for Sunday River, said she expects more than 500 athletes for the five-day event, which kicks off today with Nordic classic sprints at Black Mountain and snowboard halfpipe competition at Sunday River. Alpine and freestyle skiing events begin Wednesday, with women’s giant slalom and slopestyle (negotiating a series of jumps and obstacles), respectively.

“All of the events, you can see right from the base, or are accessible by walking,” Liberty said. “So they’re quite spectator-friendly.”

Gifford placed 20th in giant slalom a year ago and fell in slalom. She did not compete freshman year because of a knee injury.

She said the USCSA finals are as competitive as the NCAA finals for Division I skiers, but with an additional dash of fun, particularly with the snowboarders and freestyle skiers.

“We’re all very serious and competitive,” she said, “but it’s also very festive.”

Because of budget cuts, the UMass ski program is no longer a varsity sport. But as a club sport, it still has a coach and 15 athletes who train at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Mass., on a slope she likened to the one at Mt. Abram in Greenwood.

“It’s the end of the season,” Gifford said, “but it’s one last hurrah.”

Nolan Poulin, a freshman at Cornell who is also a Maranacook grad, trained Monday at Black Mountain in anticipation of today’s sprints, Wednesday’s 8.5-kilometer skate race, Friday’s 15K classic race and Saturday’s 3x5K relay.

“We only saw three other teams while we were out skiing,” he said, “but most of the courses are set. Waxing is going to be a little tricky, because there’s fresh snow and the temperature is right around freezing.”

Poulin competes on a club team at Cornell, with the athletes coming up with everything from workout plans to fundraising ideas. They carpooled from Ithaca to Maine, and are also missing school to compete for a national championship.

“It’s a little bit stressful to miss a week of school,” he said, “but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. … It’s good to be on a course I’m semi-familiar with.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]