NEW GLOUCESTER — Snow days were always special days before Sophia Laukli reached high school.

Whenever classes got canceled at what was then called Merriconeag Waldorf School, Laukli’s best friend, Olivia Skillings, would get dropped off at Laukli’s house in Yarmouth. The girls would put on their boots, grab their poles, ski to the grocery store, pick up necessary ingredients and return home to bake.

“Cookies,” Laukli said.

“We made a lot of things,” Skillings said. “We made dinner a few times. She even made me a cookbook of all the recipes we made together.”

The girls, seated at a table in the Pineland Farms market before a recent workout, laughed often as they remembered their days in middle school. They are seniors now, both 17, Laukli at Yarmouth High and Skillings, who lives in North Yarmouth, still at the small Freeport school now called Maine Coast Waldorf.

They’re also fiercely competitive Nordic skiers, two of the best in the state.

“They’re very, very close friends,” said Bob Morse, in his 36th year as Nordic coach at Yarmouth. “But put them on the starting line and there’s no mercy. Once they say go, they’re out to beat each other. And then they hug at the finish line.”

They are training partners in nonwinter seasons, roller skiing, mountain biking and road biking. Both ran cross country this fall.

Skillings won Class C state titles last winter in classical and skate techniques to help Maine Coast Waldorf win the Nordic team title for a seventh straight year. But this winter her school moves up to Class B, and will compete head-to-head with perennial powers Yarmouth, Maranacook and Freeport.

As a sophomore two years ago, Laukli placed third in Class B classical and fourth in freestyle. She spent her junior year at a boarding school in the Swiss Alps, not far from the border of Italy, in a town called Brig.

“Both my (older) siblings were leaving home and I didn’t really want to be alone at home,” Laukli said. “I wanted to go abroad, but I also wanted to ski. My parents reached out to some coaches in Europe that they knew, and they sent me to this school where I could learn French and also ski.”

Bjorn Laukli grew up in Norway, Amy Ireland in upstate New York. They were Nordic teammates at the University of Colorado, where Laukli earned All-America status in 1991 in freestyle.

Sophia, the youngest of their three children, doesn’t even remember learning to ski.

“I just did a lot of shuffling in classic for a while,” said Laukli, who wasn’t thrilled about her parents coaching the Merriconeag Nordic team in middle school. “I didn’t love it so much then. But in high school it got better.”

And how did Skillings learn? She followed Laukli, who attended first and second grades in Norway before moving to Maine.

“Her technique is so much better than anyone else’s,” Skillings said. “That’s basically how I learned to ski, by watching her and her parents.”

Sure enough, out on the Oak Hill loop at Pineland, Laukli demonstrated how, with an economy of motion, she can glide across the wide trails of packed snow, subtly shifting her weight from foot to foot.

“You watch her ski, compared to everybody else, and it’s clear she’s been skiing her whole life,” Skillings said. “It looks a lot more effortless than the way anyone else skis. I don’t know. She looks like a Norwegian.”

The weekend before Christmas, Skillings and Laukli traveled to Fort Kent to compete in the first of four Eastern Cup competitions put on by the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA). The races attracted skiers from colleges including Dartmouth, New Hampshire, UMaine-Presque Isle, Colby and Bates, as well as top-flight Canadians and racers from Vermont ski academies.

In a women’s 5-kilometer classical race, Laukli placed fourth overall, fastest among girls 18-and-under. She also finished 8 seconds and three places ahead of Kaelyn Woods, a Bates sophomore who won six individual Class B state titles at Gray-New Gloucester High.

Skillings, who placed 23rd overall of 65 finishers and 13th in her age group, will join Woods at Bates next winter, having received notification about her early decision acceptance.

Laukli, an honors student taking high-level courses, has not begun a single college application, although she did meet with a Dartmouth coach this fall and spent a night on campus in Hanover, New Hampshire. She said the recruiting process will go more smoothly if coaches can see how she stacks up against domestic peers, rather than trying to extrapolate from, say, Laukli’s 15th-place showing at last January’s Schweizermeisterschaften Langlauf 10K in Val Mustair, Switzerland.

“I think I enjoyed it when they were all freaking out about finishing it,” she said of seeing her classmates sweat out the application process. “Now when everyone’s getting in, I kind of wish I applied, but I think it’s better that I didn’t. I’ll have better chances next year, or more opportunities, once I have a whole ski season here.”

Later this week, Laukli and Skillings will travel to Alaska for the U.S. cross country championships in Anchorage. They have a 10K skate race on Jan. 3, a freestyle sprint on Jan. 5 and a 10K classical race on Jan. 7. They also hope to qualify for the junior nationals in March at Soldier Hollow in Utah.

In between, if a snowstorm cancels school, you might just find them back in Laukli’s kitchen, whipping up another batch of chocolate chip, molasses or peanut butter delights.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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