The Mount Washington Valley Alpine Education Foundation wants to make ski racing affordable for local children from working-class families.
The nonprofit organization (mwvskiteam.org) supervises about 140 young skiers from across New England through the Mount Washington Valley Ski Team and the Cranmore Race, and has distributed nearly $30,000 through the scholarship program in 2021 to help offset the expenses of Racing like gear, travel, camping and training.
“This sport is really affordable. It’s for the middle class. There are resources if you really want to do it,” Foundation CEO Mike LeBlanc said during an interview on December 29 at the Cranmore Raceway.
Through both teams, the institution serves local and regional student runners through a CRT that focuses on athletes ages 8 to 13 and the MWV Ski Team that includes teen skaters under 16 and 18.
The MWV Ski Team competes throughout the Eastern District, training in Cranmore, Attitash and Wildcat, and offered through program options from full-time to weekends and holidays only. CRT Racing in Cranmore.
Valley ski culture starts early for kids with the low-cost Eastern Slope Ski Club School Program. Another advantage is that there are several ski areas close to each other providing a variety of terrain, conditions and weather. Locals can grow up here, train and maybe race the best stages in the world without it costing a fortune.
“We’re excited now,” Liane Smith said. “We have a chance to tick all the boxes with the local kids, kids who like to skate often because you need a lot of repetitions in this sport to be able to take it to the next level,” she said.
Smith knows. The programs helped her reach the Olympics twice. A native of North Conway, she began skating in Cranmore and was on the Cranmore Race and MWV skating teams before joining the US skateboarding team for 10 years. She competed in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics before returning to the MWV Ski Team as coach and program director.
In recent years, the MWV Ski Team has seen the number of full-time runners increase from three to about 16 this season. In addition to seeing students from Kennett High School, the skaters now also come from Friborg Academy. The exposure to distance learning due to the pandemic has led many of these students to the MWV Ski Team.
Also, CRT has partnered with Northeast Woodland Charter School in Conway through Waldorf School-style nature-based learning.
Putting a child into a skate racing program can be expensive as costs rise at the high school level, but the Mount Washington Valley Ski Team has a variety of options from a Friday-only program at $1,200 to a full-time program for teens that costs $7,000. Paying early can help offset the costs as well as apply for financial aid.
“It’s very affordable and works great for us now,” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc stresses that having members of the working community is fundamental to the development and culture of young skaters, and Chairman Noah Coleman encourages the growth of the scholarship program with Karen Dolan of the Cranmore Reese team and Craig Keller of the ESSC to encourage these efforts.
“This is one of the things that has huge potential,” said LeBlanc, who has been with the foundation since 2017 and spent 12 years as head coach of the skateboarding team at Brown University.
However, the establishment has to pierce the mindset that skate races cost a lot.
LeBlanc says it doesn’t, and points to local scholarship recipients whose tuition fees are fully covered. Additionally, parents can search to find other scholarship programs.
“The important thing going forward is that we continue to grow our scholarship fund and our outreach to the community,” Smith said. “I want to constantly convey the message to people that this is possible as we work to turn our tails into reality for the people of the valley.”
Smith credits locals for sticking with the club and keeping it together noting that the current coaches are former MWV ski racers.
“They are the ones who push forward and create a great culture,” she said. “We need to spread the idea that this is a viable option for anyone interested in this sport.”
LeBlanc added, “If you grew up in the White Mountains, you should have a way to be a competitive ski racer if that’s what you want to do regardless of your financial background.