After three years as an Alpine skier moonlighting on the Nordic trails, Ethan Burke finally achieved balance as a senior at Hampden Academy.
He did so, in large part, because for the first time in his career he had well-groomed trails for practice.
“That was a huge part of it,” he said of the 3-kilometer loop in Winterport tended by first-year Hampden Nordic coach Emily Cartwright. “It wasn’t like one of the top-notch places, like the Nordic Heritage Center (in Presque Isle), but compared to years past, it was 10 times better. Before, it would be, go ski around the baseball field. I’d be skiing through a foot of snow with a crusty top on it.”
After two years as the Class A skimeister runner-up, Burke broke through in dramatic fashion this winter. At the Class A state championship meet in Presque Isle and Mars Hill, Burke placed second in slalom, third in freestyle, fifth in giant slalom and eighth in classic for the ridiculously low score of 18 points for the four events.
What’s more, Burke became the first Maine skier in memory to qualify for both Alpine and Nordic competitions in the Eastern High School Championships.
He is our choice as Maine Sunday Telegram MVP for boys’ skiing.
“He had been doing a lot of good endurance training, but his cross country technically wasn’t as good as it should be because he hadn’t been able to ski on groomed ski trails,” said Cartwright, who competed at the University of New Hampshire. “In the past, they trained on snowmobile trails. So his time on Nordic skis was really limited. It wasn’t what I would call real training.”
A year after moving to the Bangor area in 2006, Cartwright started a Learn to Ski Nordic program in conjunction with the Penobscot Valley Ski Club. When she began coaching at Hampden, she brought her skiers to the trails she grooms in Winterport or to the bog trails in Orono.
The improvement, for Burke, was most noticeable in his classic technique. He went from 44th as a freshman to 31st as a sophomore to 20th as a junior to eighth this winter.
Now he’s even considering Nordic skiing in college.
“I really did consider myself an Alpine skier until this year,” Burke said. “I thought of myself as a skimeister who’s really an Alpine skier. This year I said I’m not just an Alpine skier who does Nordic. I’m somebody who likes to do all of them and do them well.”
Growing up in an Alpine family, Burke cut his teeth on Hermon Mountain and later, as a part-timer in high school, joined a weekend racing program at Sugarloaf. His older sister, Morgan, became a skimeister at Hampden Academy and Ethan followed suit.
“He’s a fantastic kid, one of the easiest people I’ve had to coach,” said second-year Alpine Coach Marc Curtis. “He’ll come down at the end of a practice run, stop and ask, ‘What can I do better?’
“And even if he has a good race, he’s not shouting and celebrating. He’s very humble, a real team kid.”
Juggling both disciplines meant Burke had to miss a jazz band concert last month. He plays the tenor saxophone, and also runs cross country in fall and outdoor track in spring. He’s thinking of majoring in engineering at either the University of Maine or University of New Hampshire.
Wherever he goes, whatever he does, gliding across snow — whether down hills or up them — will be part of his life.
“When I’m out there Alpine skiing I’ve having a blast, and when I’m out there Nordic skiing I’m having a blast,” he said. “As long as I have skis on, I’m happy.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: