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School Mixes Ski Racing and Academics

February 19, 1985

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) _ Even if television were allowed at the Carrabasset Valley Academy, a prep school for potential ski racers, there would be no time for it.

The winter school day begins at 6 a.m. when students stream from their dormitories for a brisk, 21/2 -mile run, often in predawn darkness and subzero cold. It ends about 10:30 p.m. after a two-hour compulsory study hall and a few precious free moments usually devoted to waxing and tuning skis, training with weights or viewing videotapes of runs down Sugarloaf, the big ski mountain up the road.

Training that helps youngsters fulfill their potential as ski racers while emphasizing academic excellence results in a Spartan lifestyle at the two- year-old secondary school housed in a converted motel and restaurant on Route 27.

″It’s a lot harder than the public schools. You cover so much more in less time,″ said Dax Brown, 14, of Fredericton, New Brunswick.

After breakfast and 11/2 hours in seminar-style classes, students train for three hours on the mountain. There are four more hours of class in the afternoon.

Now in its second year, Carrabassett Valley is one of perhaps 10 ski academies that have sprung up nationwide in the past 15 years. Half are in the Northeast, and three of those are in Vermont.

Attendance at the schools for skiers doesn’t come cheap. Tuition and fees at Carrabassett Valley add up to more than $10,000, roughly the tab at the region’s most prestigious prep schools.

Ski academies were created to give American skiers the opportunity to compete on an equal footing against European racers who have daily training on the slopes, said Carrabassett Valley Headmaster Bruce Colon.

″If they’re going to be competitive, they have to be in a situation where they’re going to be on snow on a daily basis. Everyone else is,″ said Colon, a former prep school administrator and development coach of the U.S. Ski Team.

While U.S. skiers have had ″periods of brilliance,″ it’s only in the past five or six years that Americans have been able to match their European counterparts regularly, he said.

″At the international level, we’re creating a great depth of talent - and that seems to be coming from the academies,″ he said.

Still, Colon makes it plain that the goal is to give young skiers a chance to reach their greatest potential. Ultimately, that leads to state and regional races for most, national and international competition for the very best.

″There’s a very small pyramid at the top,″ he said, insisting that academics remain the school’s No. 1 priority. ″If we put all our eggs in one basket, we’re not doing that child justice.″

That’s why classroom work remains as disciplined as the coaching on the ski runs. Classes are small, instruction is personalized and teachers are on the premises 24 hours a day.

The school bears witness to the marriage of skiing and academics: algebra and geometry texts share a bookshelf with a manual for Alpine ski officials and the Periodic Table of the Elements hangs across from ski posters.

A secondary school serving grades eight through 12, Carrabassett Valley has 11 teachers and 48 students, 34 of whom are enrolled for the full nine-month academic year. The rest sign up for the five-month winter program.

Nearly half the students are from Maine; most of the others are from elsewhere in New England. There are also a few students from Canada and the Midwest.

The youthful, enthusiastic faculty speaks in glowing terms of the students’ motivation and of the absence of disciplinary problems.

″My largest class is 12. In public school that was my smallest,″ said Jean Haeger, a teacher of French and German who spent four years teaching in public schools. At 28, she is one of the older teachers.

Many of the academy’s top competitors have been on skis for nearly as long as they’ve been able to walk. Sari Skaling, for example, has been skiing since she was 3 and racing since age 10.

Sari, 15, said the decision for her and twin brother Sean to attend Carrabassett Valley was made by the children themselves, rather than their parents.″They supported us, but they didn’t push us,″ she said.

While she finds herself with ″hardly any free time,″ Sari said she doesn’t regret the choice.

″I like it better that way. I get a lot more work done that way.″

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