January 5

A Maine ski school earns its reputation 
for churning out well-rounded Olympians

Carrabassett Valley Academy students learn to embrace uphill and downhill challenges.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Keegan Kilbride once played football and lacrosse at Portland High School. But after his freshman year on Cumberland Avenue, he decided he wanted to attend Carrabassett Valley Academy, where, he said, “I can ski every day.’’

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Carrabassett Valley Academy senior and freestyle skier Keegan Kilbride of Portland.

Detail of photo by Tucker Pilsbury

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Carrabassett Valley Academy has gained a reputation as one of the finest ski academies in the country.

Contributed photo

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Carrabassett Valley Academy has a rich history of Winter Olympic athletes. Here’s a list of alumni who have competed in the Olympics:

Bob Aldighiere (post-grad), freestyle skier, moguls, competed in 1992

Sharon Petzold (1989 graduate), freestyle ballet, competed in 1992 (winning bronze in demonstration event)

Brenda Petzold (1991), freestyle skier, competed in 2002

Kristean Porter Thorpe (1989), freestyle skier, competed in 1994

Mark Fawcett (1990), alpine skier, competed for Canada in 1998 and 2002

Jeff Greenwood (1994) ,snowboarder, competed in 2002

Adam Hostetter (1993), snowboarder, competed in 1998

Seth Wescott (1994), snowboardcross, competed in 2006 and 2010 (winning gold medals each year)

Kirsten Clark (1995,) alpine skier, competed in 1998, 2002, 2006

Bode Miller (1996), alpine skier, competed in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 (winning two silvers in 2002, gold, silver and bronze in 2010)

Emily Cook (1997), freestyle skier, aerials, competed in 2006 and 2010 (also made U.S. team in 2002 but was injured)

Now a senior, he has a difficult time getting his friends in Portland to understand that he actually does more than ski.

Sophomore Abi Zagnoli added that her friends often ask, “Do you guys even go to school, or do you just ski?’’

Who can blame them?

Since it opened in 1982, Carrabassett Valley Academy has gained a reputation for producing some of the best skiers and snowboarders in the nation, 11 of whom have gone on to compete in the Olympics, pulling in three gold medals, three silvers and a bronze. When the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, as many as 12 CVA alumni could be on the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana. Two more will be coaching on their national teams.

Alpine skier Bode Miller, a 1996 graduate, has won a gold, three silver and a bronze at the Olympics. Snowboarder Seth Wescott, a 1994 graduate, has two Olympic golds. Freestyle skier Emily Cook, a 1997 graduate, is a six-time U.S. champion in aerials and has been selected to three Olympic teams. Alpine skier Kirsten Clark, a 1995 grad from Raymond, participated in three Olympics.

The folks who run Carrabassett Valley Academy would like you to know there is also an academic side to their school, one that often sends its students to some of the top colleges in the nation, such as Dartmouth or Middlebury or Colby or Bates.

But they also know what the allure of an Olympic run means to students.

“We are obviously very proud of the Olympians that we’ve produced,’’ said Kate Punderson, the third-year head of school and a 1989 graduate of CVA. “What those Olympians do is inspire the current students. They know that Alex Tuttle and Seth Wescott put their snowboard pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of them. They went through the same experiences. So they know it’s possible.’’

It’s possible because of the school and its relationship with Sugarloaf – the mountain of rock, snow and ice that looms high over CVA.

The school “meant everything to me,’’ said Tuttle, the Stratton native who is now trying to earn his first Olympic berth in snowboardcross. “It provides you with an opportunity that you wouldn’t be able to find in a public school system. The amount of on-snow time and personalized training you receive here is unbelievable.’’

But beyond the coaching and time on the hill, CVA challenges its students in other ways. Every day there is competition in whatever discipline they’re pursuing because everyone else in that group has the same goal – to someday make the U.S. team, or the World Cup, or the Olympics.

“When you have that many quality athletes together, they sort of drive each other,’’ said Hank McKee, the senior editor of Ski Racing News who follows the ski academies. “And that’s what makes it work.’’

Students are challenged by their schedule, which often has them away from the school for up to six weeks at a time. Last fall, for example, a group went to Europe to ski on the glaciers there for three weeks. Others will go to Colorado for 10 days to train. While away, they are expected to keep up with their studies, even take exams, as if they were still in class. They are taught time management and social communication skills at a far earlier age than many of their peers.

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Additional Photos

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Head of School Kate Punderson says CVA students benefit from knowing that their Olympian predecessors "put their snowboard pants on one leg at a time."

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Chip Cochrane, CVA ski coach


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