Left to right, Gorham High juniors Trent Stevens, Sam Munkacsi and Owen Ballard are riding high entering the Alpine ski season. Glenn Jordan photo

GORHAM — As the sun sets beyond the snow-covered track and football field, 11 hardy members of the Gorham High Alpine ski team balance on their backsides.

Feet raised in the cold air, they twist their arms from side to side, nearly touching the asphalt driveway adjacent to the school parking lot. Dawn Stevens, the mother of one of the skiers, works for a nearby gym and leads the team in dryland training.

There are explosive leaps over the curb separating road from sidewalk, deep squats and tucks over imagined ski trails, bursts of jumping rope followed by sprints around a distant cone. Nothing is fancy or high-tech, just a range of stretches and exercises almost entirely dependent on body weight.

The Rams have never won a state championship in skiing and are not likely to do so this winter. In Class A, Falmouth, Mt. Blue of Farmington and Edward Little of Auburn have been the dominant programs in recent years with Camden Hills and Fryeburg Academy also finding occasional success.

Even so, Gorham remains competitive, particularly with a trio of junior boys who finished within half a second of each other in slalom at last winter’s SMAA Alpine championship. Sam Munkacsi, Trent Stevens and Owen Ballard finished sixth, eighth and ninth, respectively.

They form the heart and soul of this blue-collar bunch, coached by Sam’s father, Sean Munkacsi, and toughened over the past six weeks by Trent’s mother, Dawn Stevens.

When asked about the possibility of a state title, Sam Munkacsi (pronounced moon-COT-shee) harbored no illusions.

“We’re definitely going to try our best to do that,” he said, “but I’m not sure how realistic it is. We all just want to beat each other, and that makes us better, I think.”

Indeed, the friendly competition between the team’s best three skiers spurs all of them toward better results and higher placements. Sam comes from a background of USSA racing at Cranmore Mountain in New Hampshire. He works part-time as an auto mechanic and splits his school time between Gorham and the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center.

The tired-looking 1993 F-250 pickup with a wreath on the front bumper, occasional rust holes in the body and faded lettering on the doors is his. He watched a lot of auto repair videos on YouTube and then bought an old truck to learn more through trial and error.

The vehicle serves as an apt metaphor for Munkacsi’s ski team. It may not be pretty, but it does the job. It’s certainly not brash or flamboyant.

“We don’t want to be like that,” Munkacsi said. “I wouldn’t say quiet, but we’re not rude to anyone. We kind of keep to ourselves.”

Ballard comes from a freestyle skiing background. He spent six years in Gould Academy’s weekend program, first in slopestyle but quickly transitioning to moguls. He didn’t start racing gates until his freshman year at Gorham High, following the tracks of an older sister (Estelle), same as Munkacsi (Claire).

“Last year my strength was giant slalom racing and not so much slalom racing,” Ballard said. “I’d really like to try to even those out rather than have one that’s more dominant and one that’s weaker.”

After struggling much of last season with slalom, Ballard got guards that fit over his ski pole grips to protect his hands when punching gates. He saw immediate improvement.

“With the pole guards,” he said, “you have more of a direct line between the gates rather than going around.”

Like Ballard, Stevens didn’t start racing gates until reaching high school. Although he has been skiing since he was 6, his best sport is mountain biking. He’s been racing for the past three summers and said it keeps him in great shape for skiing.

“The nice part is having us three being kind of the same exact level of skiing,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we want to do well for our team but then it’s also kind of fun, in the back of our heads, just kind of racing each other.”

Sean Munkacsi has been the Alpine coach at Gorham for the past decade. He’s been an educator even longer, for a quarter century, and currently teaches social studies at Scarborough High. He views athletics as an extension of the classroom, and describes ski racing as “like taking an ice rink and tipping it up to about 30 degrees and putting a bunch of gates on it.”

Negotiating such terrain is not always fun and often involves conquering – or at least wrestling with – fear.

“I think that’s what high school sports does,” he said. “It teaches us to get out of our comfort zone. I mean, some of the courses those guys go down, they are brutal. It’s just sheer ice from top to bottom. But it helps you.”

Munkacsi invokes the words of a famous mountain climber who said that fear is close to satisfaction. The bumper-sticker slogan of No Fear is a crock, in Munkacsi’s view.

“The reality is, we all have fear,” he said. “You don’t want to speak in front of the classroom. You don’t want to be in this position or that position. Then you realize, let’s just take it one step at a time.”

His advice to those about to tackle a particularly precarious slope: Ski the headwall and race the finish. Survive the top, race the bottom.

“Sometimes that’s what life is,” he said. “You’ve got to survive one thing and then you get the benefit. Sometimes you’ve just got to get through.”

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