This wasn’t the ski season Dana Schwartz anticipated, but she’s making the best of it.

“We’re fortunate we can be outside and still doing our sport without as many changes as other sports are dealing with,” said the Cape Elizabeth junior, who placed first in the only two Alpine races her school team has attended this winter – one slalom and one giant slalom. “We’re just so glad that we even have races.”

A year ago, Maine high school skiers competed in state championship meets in late February and the top skiers advanced to regional meets in early March. None of that is happening this year, either in Nordic or Alpine, because of coronavirus safety precautions, but a few conferences are planning their own championship meets.

For Western Maine Conference schools, an Alpine championship is scheduled for March 8 at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton and a Nordic championship March 6 at Stark’s Mountain in Fryeburg.

“One of the biggest challenges has been the aspect of not knowing what’s going to happen,” said Schwartz, who is also enrolled in a weekend program with Gould Academy at Sunday River. “I’m still training, still improving and still doing what I love. I have more of an appreciation for it.”

Schwartz also has another year of high school. Not so for Yarmouth senior Eleanor Donahue, who won the Class B giant slalom title as a junior. Donahue said she misses team practices, team dinners and even dry-land training, which was done remotely this winter.

Yarmouth High’s Eleanor Donahue of Yarmouth won the giant slalom and placed second in slalom last year at the Class B state championships at Black Mountain in Rumford. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We didn’t meet as a group until February,” Donahue said. “But we were a close team before this, so we’ve had fun. We’re really happy to have a season at all.”

Donahue still isn’t certain whether her season will continue into March. Yarmouth has one regular meet and the conference championship still on its schedule, but coronavirus concerns may prevent the Clippers from further competition.

“We were supposed to have a race next Tuesday, but our coach decided it wasn’t safe, COVID-wise,” Donahue said. “In his opinion, the other teams and the people at the mountain weren’t wearing masks, so he felt that we shouldn’t race.”

Yarmouth Alpine Coach Gavin Glider, who is a teacher in the Portland school system, said masking has been an issue, even though the Maine Principals’ Association requires them for all competitors, coaches and officials.

“There’s an overall concern about the public environment of enforceability of masking,” Glider said.

Both Schwartz and Donahue said skiers are accustomed to wearing buffs or other face coverings as protection from cold temperatures, so in their view, masks have not been a problem. Schwartz said if she sees someone on the mountain with a mask down, she’ll offer a reminder to pull it up, “so we can keep doing what we all love.”

On the Nordic side, Maine Coast Waldorf Coach John Tarling said he’s seen a few masks pulled down beneath noses, particularly when glasses get fogged.

“But for the most part, it’s been well taken,” he said. “Coaches and administrators and athletes have all bought into it. And because everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t seem to be an unfair advantage.”

Of course, keeping up with teenagers while wearing a mask has been a challenge for Tarling, who appreciates how hard it can be to gulp for air through a cloth barrier while exercising strenuously. Still, he said, it’s better than sitting at home.

He also noted that the traditional small college skiing circuit in New England took a hiatus this winter, even while colleges in western states continue to compete. So he considers local high schools to be fortunate to compete in half a dozen races this season.

Seamus Woodruff, Emma Haims, Conrad Anderson and Maeve Woodruff have led the way for Maine Coast Waldorf.

“We all recognize that when you’re wearing a mask and adhering to all these protocols, it kind of makes the results secondary,” Tarling said. “It’s certainly not the year we were hoping for, but it’s better than no year.”

Sierra Aponte Clarke, a Casco Bay High School student who competes for Deering, leaves the starting line in staggered starts during a Nordic race in January at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Casco Bay High School senior Sierra Aponte Clark said racing five kilometers while wearing a mask required an adjustment period. Even more challenging was trying to build strong bonds with teammates absent the usual Friday night dinners, making of posters, sharing of long bus rides and normal in-school activities.

As a senior captain, she had hoped to nurture that team aspect in a largely individual sport.

“The energy hasn’t been as strong,” she said, “but I’m really impressed with the spirit our team’s been able to maintain, to have that same motivation to keep working and training despite how it’s not the usual season.”

Clark, who competes for Deering, placed second to Eliza Skillings of Gould Academy at the Sassi Memorial Classic in Rumford last weekend. Only 46 girls competed in the race, which drew a field of 137 the previous year. There were 57 boys who finished, down from 174 in 2020.

This weekend at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville, the New England Nordic Ski Association will hold an unofficial state championship event to determine recognition for the Maine under-16 and Eastern High School teams. Boys will race Saturday and girls Sunday, each split into two regions to ensure compliance with the outdoor gathering limit of 100.

Whether Sunday marks the end of Aponte Clark’s season or not, she still isn’t certain. But then, it’s been like that all winter.

“Every race I was like, ‘Oh, this could be my last race of the season, this could be my last race of high school,’ because you never knew what turn COVID would take,” she said. “This year, every race was a gift. Every time we were able to get on snow was a gift. Overall, I’m just super grateful that we’ve had any version of a season.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.