Chip Cochrane thinks, stammers, thinks some more. “It’s hard to describe Sam,” Cochrane says. “He’s a great kid. He isn’t even like a typical kid.”
“He’s not a typical kid,” is a good description of Sam Morse, and probably about as close as you can come to describing him in a sentence. While he’s a student at Carrabassett Valley Academy, and has a chance to eventually make the U.S. National Team, skiing is only part of the story.
Morse grew up in Carrabassett Valley, where his parents are both ministers with the Sugarloaf Area Christian Ministry. After going to public school through seventh grade, he skipped eighth grade when he enrolled at CVA, and is now a 16-year-old senior.
Morse’s brother, Ben, is on the Alpine skiing team at Dartmouth, where their great-grandfather was part of the Class of 1911. Physically, they don’t look too much like brothers. Ben is skinny and wiry; Sam is around 6 feet and 200 pounds.
“That’s definitely parental genes,” Sam said. “My brother got my dad’s side. I definitely got my mom’s side.”
That stocky build hasn’t seemed to hinder Morse when he competes athletically. He was a strong soccer player, and when he joined the mountain biking team, Cochrane said he was the team’s star, despite a body that no one would mistake for Lance Armstrong’s.
“He’s probably the strongest kid in the school, but he’s one of the most flexible, too,” Cochrane said. “If we do a mile run with some of the better runners in the school, he’ll keep up with them on sheer grit.”
Cochrane, who has been coaching Morse for about four years, clearly feels a bond with him, and it goes beyond skiing. Cochrane has a daughter about Morse’s age, and he and Morse both like building things with their hands.
“He likes a lot of the same things I liked when I was growing up,” Cochrane said. “I can say something, I know where he’s coming from. I get that feeling, he understands where I’m coming from, too.”
Skiing-wise, Morse consistently places high in downhill events. Last season, he was first in his age group at an Eastern Cup FIS race. Cochrane said you can never tell when someone has peaked or will simply lose interest, but that Morse is doing everything he needs to in order to be on the U.S. National team someday.
“He’s got quite a bit of talent,” Cochrane said. “He’s got a ways to go, but he’s one of the top kids in his age group. He shows improvement steadily. He doesn’t improve by leaps and bounds every day, but he has that die-hard, steady climb.”
That improvement, Cochrane says, comes from Morse’s diligence. Morse has been keeping a daily training log for several years, and Cochrane thinks that focus and work ethic is why he can be successful at most things he tries.
Cochrane coached future Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller in the mid-1990s (Oddly enough, Miller’s given first name is also Samuel.). Cochrane said Morse’s talent isn’t in Miller’s class, but he knows how to make up for that.
“Bode just picked things up very quickly,” Cochrane said. “He was just an incredible natural athlete. You showed him something one day, the next day he was beating you at it. Sam will beat you at it the next year, because he works at it every day.”
Morse has embraced, rather than rebelled against his religious upbringing. This June, he’ll travel to South Dakota, and give six one-hour talks about his faith at a Christian family retreat.
“I’ll cover basic Christian values, and how those apply to my life,” Morse said. “It’s much more storytelling than a sermon, if you will.”
Dartmouth is probably in Morse’s plans eventually as well. But like many high-level competitive skiers, he’ll take at least a year off after graduating this spring. Skiers peak in their mid-20s, and he wants to do the same.
“It’s every little kid’s dream to go to the World Cup,” Morse said. “That’s where my sights are set.”
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243