At the top of the hill, helmet and ski goggles in place, muscles tensed to begin the challenge of threading her way through a series of gates, Kaelyn Woods would occasionally wonder about wax or transportation or making the starting time for her Nordic race later in the day.
Such is the life of the Maine high school skimeister, who crams four demanding events — slalom and giant slalom in Alpine, and classical and freestyle in Nordic — into a frenzied three-day period.
Make that crammed.
The Maine Principals’ Association changed the format of the state championship ski meets this year, keeping Nordic events during February vacation but pushing Alpine events forward one week. The idea was to involve more mountain resorts that were hesitant to close a trail and give up lodge space during one of their busiest times of the winter.
The upshot, at least for skimeisters, is a competition that removes some of the mental and physical stress of past years.
“It will give them time to focus on each event and not have to worry about getting to the next event,” said Woods, a sophomore at Gray-New Gloucester High and the reigning girls’ Class B skimeister.
“It will be more relaxing,” said Gray-New Gloucester junior Eric Wilcox, the reigning boys’ Class B skimeister. “For waxing and rest, you’ll get more time. But I also kind of like the events together. It separates states from all the other races. And I like the camaraderie of both teams being there. It’s kind of neat.”
Wilcox will attempt to defend his title this winter. Woods, who also plays softball and soccer, has chosen instead to focus on Nordic racing.
“It was definitely a hard decision because I’ve been Alpine skiing forever,” she said.
The switch in championship format played no role in her decision.
“I didn’t even know about the change,” she said.
The Patriots still have a shot at both skimeister titles. Sophomore Keaton McEvoy, who won the Western Maine Conference skimeister title as a freshman last winter, did not compete at states because of a concussion she sustained two days earlier while free skiing in a terrain park.
“I’m excited for the ski season to start,” McEvoy said. “I like Nordic better than I like Alpine, but they’re both fun.”
Last winter, 22 boys and 19 girls completed all four skimeister events in the three state championship meets. It will be interesting to see if those numbers change in response to the new format.
“I think it’s going to open the doors” to more skiers trying all four, said longtime Yarmouth coach Bob Morse. “Once kids realize, hey, you don’t have to do three days in a row, it’s a lot easier to sell it.”
For the first time in recent memory, Yarmouth had no skimeister entrants last winter. Morse said this season he expects two boys and three girls, all of them freshmen or sophomores.
One rule change, made with unanimous support, is that teams at the state meet can enter one boy and one girl as skimeisters in addition to their top six skiers in a particular event.
Morse said he also thinks skiers who are strong in either Alpine or Nordic can give the other discipline more of a chance, knowing there will less overlap this season.
Sophomore Tucker Grout, for example, finished second in Class B slalom last winter. This winter he plans to ski Nordic as well as Alpine.
“He realized he can do the cross country (at states) and get that over with,” Morse said, “and then go into the Alpine meet and not worry that, â€˜Oh, I’ve got a Nordic race in the afternoon.’ “
Whether the changes encourage more all-around skiers remains to be seen. Morse, for one, thinks the effort is worthwhile.
“I think we want to hold on to the skimeisters,” he said. “It’s kind of a Maine tradition.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or[email protected]Twitter: GlennJordanPPH