Imagination runs wild during the Olympics.
Skiers and riders in New England are never far from cruising down trails and exploring the parks and pipes used by athletes making it to the Sochi Olympics.
You can ski just as Bode Miller did at rugged Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H., plunging down the often-intimidating Front Five over Echo Lake. The nonconformist Olympian grew up skiing at the mountain where he followed the “big boys” doing laps off the Zoomer chair and later hung out at lunch rocks on Taft getting schooled on a ski bumming lifestyle, according to his sister Kyla Miller, a Cannon ski instructor.
Miller went on to Maine’s Carrabassett Valley Academy at Sugarloaf, which produced a handful of Sochi athletes such as aerialist Emily Cook and coach Forest Carey, where he was found blazing down the training trail Narrow Gauge. Plenty long and steep, the trail is an International Ski Federation-sanctioned downhill course that’s held a host of national championships. It’s a chance for recreational warriors to ski where many US Ski Team members have competed. Miller won the US downhill and US giant slalom championships there in 2006.
Like Miller, Alpine skier Julia Ford ripped down Gary’s, Rocket, and Avalanche at Cannon during her days at New Hampshire’s Holderness School. Before leaving for Sochi, the Concord, Mass., native trained there. She was on skis at age 3, zipping around Okemo in Ludlow, Vt., eventually attending Okemo Mountain School before Holderness.
At Okemo, Alpine racers primarily train on Wardance and Chief.
“One more important thing in looking back, if you asked her, Julia attributes the weekly speed training on Chief that OMS still schedules as a very important piece in her development,” said Wendy Neal, Julia’s aunt and former OMS head of school. “Regardless of the event, the speed training helped her in all disciplines of ski racing.”
Another resort with a ski school linked to Sochi Olympians is Vermont’s Stratton Mountain. More than a dozen athletes from a handful of countries with Stratton ties are competing, including snowboardcross racers Lindsey Jacobellis, Alex Diebold, and Jackie Hernandez, and cross-country skiers Andy Newell and Sophie Caldwell.
Jacobellis, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, learned to ski and ride at Stratton, cutting her chops on Tyrolienne and beating the boys in the night boardercross series at age 9.
The East Byrneside boarder/skier cross course at Stratton was in part designed by Jacobellis, along with fellow medalist Ross Powers. Stratton’s been hosting big park and pipe events since 1985, so ollie up in Big Ben. You can barrel down the North American trail like Alpine racers in training or get pumped on moguls like Hannah Kearney (the Waterville Valley athlete took bronze in the moguls at Sochi) did when she won the US Freestyle nationals at Stratton in 2011.
Burke Mountain Academy grads Mikaela Shiffrin and Nolan Kasper skied the BMA training hill on Lower Warren’s Way at Q Burke to hone their skills. Ride the Mid-Burke Express and see the iconic Poma lift the racers use.
Leanne Smith of North Conway, N.H., is in her second Olympics and got her start at Cranmore. At age 8, her coach was T.O. Currier, whose brother David was a 1972 Olympian and nephew Lyman Currier is competing at Sochi.
Smith would blaze down the mountain’s race course, Middle to the Comp Slope, but Currier remembers a run she took with her father. A 9-year-old Smith zoomed about two-thirds straight down the steeps of the Ledges, hitting a small jump and flipping about 20 feet in the air backward.
“That was a sign of the crazy things to come,” T.O. Currier said.
But the youngster also enjoyed cruising down a beginner course.
“Early in the morning, she loved going down Easy Street,” he said. “We did it before anyone else was on the mountain. We’d do it in a tuck, like a mini-downhill for the kids.”
Olympic champions like Kelly Clark (Snow) and Hannah Teter (Okemo) spent their youth on Vermont halfpipes. Freeskier Julia Krass of Hanover, N.H., was taught to ski at age 2 by her mother at Enfield’s Whaleback and later trained there with two-time Olympian Evan Dybvig.
Annalisa Drew from Andover started to ski when she was 3 at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, N.H. In junior high, she joined the Loon Freestyle Team, catching air in the resort’s many parks.
Snowboarder Ty Walker, 16, spent eight years practicing in Stowe’s terrain parks, including the biggest, Tyro.
Just because Devin Logan is known for her halfpipe and slopestyle skills doesn’t mean she’s only in the parks at Mount Snow in her native West Dover, Vt.
“Even though I am a park competitor I really enjoy free-skiing around the mountain,” said the Olympic silver medalist in the debut of ski slopestyle in Sochi. “One of my favorite places to ski at Mount Snow is the North Face. As I got better with my skiing when I was younger I was always trying to push myself and follow my brothers down the entire area. Particularly, I like Ripcord.”
But you’ll still find her at the terrain parks on Carinthia because “there’s always new features and a million different combinations you can do.”
Kris Freeman trains on the cross-country trails of Waterville Valley.
Biathlete Sean Doherty of Conway, N.H., learned to ski at Great Glen Trails at the base of Mount Washington, receiving tips along the way from 1984 Olympian Sue (Long) Wemyss, now a ski instructor there.
“[Doherty] was always talented as a young skier, you could see he was going to be fast,” said Sue’s husband, general manager Howie Wemyss.
They say that a lot around these parts.