CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Pam Spear looked at the skier on the course, still closer to the starting gate than the finish line, but making her way toward the finish.

Once she knew it was her daughter, Ella, Pam Spear turned her back to the course for a second to compose herself.

“I get nervous,” she said.

Ella Spear was not nervous. A 17-year-old senior at Carrabassett Valley Academy, Spear is taking part in the U.S. Alpine Speed Championships this week at Sugarloaf. She’ll compete in her first official downhill race Tuesday. Her goals are modest.

“Have fun, make it downhill safely and try to go as fast as possible,” Spear said after the second of two practice runs Monday. “For downhill, I’ve never done it before. I just really want to see what it’s all about and get down the hill.”

Spear completed her first practice downhill run Monday with a time of 1:18.91, good for 23rd in a field of 30 racers. Her second run was slightly faster, 1:18.11, good for 27th.

“I felt pretty good. I feel like I could let it go a little more,” said Spear, a Boothbay native.

Spear has been racing for just over a decade. When she was 6, her father, Lester, talked her into entering a race at Lost Valley in Auburn.

“That gave her the bug. She’s been racing ever since,” Pam Spear said. “What she sets her mind to, she stays focused and works hard.”

Ella said there was incentive to race that went beyond winning.

“I think I was the only one competing so I won. That got me. I get free pizza every time I race? That sounds good,” she said.

Over the years, pizza was replaced as a motivator by adrenaline.

“I love going fast and sometimes feeling like I’m not going to make it,” Spear said. “Even in slalom, when I’m not necessarily going fast I’ll be like ‘Oh, I almost missed that gate. I’ve gotta get going.’ The feeling of knowing you completed a good run, knowing you at least did what you want to do, that’s what keeps me going.”

This winter Spear competed in a mix of NorAm, Eastern Cup and other races, with four top-10 finishes. A few weeks ago she earned a sixth-place finish in a super-G at Sugarloaf, and a fifth in giant slalom the next day.

Spear will continue racing at Colby College next year. With Colby, Spear will continue to train often at Sugarloaf.

“There’s a lot of fast people out there. I think I really learned how cool it would be to be on a team like that. All those girls, and the guys, they work together. They help each other. It’s a really cool team environment I’m looking forward to in college,” Spear said.

“I’m really excited. I’ve skied (at Sugarloaf) my entire life, and can’t think of anything better than to do another four years. I love this hill.”

Qualifying for the nationals was a goal Spear set at the start of the season.

Racing this week is another chance for Spear to learn and ski clean runs against the best skiers in the country.

“For super-G, I want to try and score some NorAm points,” she said, “and that means top 30, 8 percent away from the leader. I think that’s pretty attainable. I’ve skied this hill a good amount.”