Colby Laflamme has his sights set on a national championship.

The Winthrop High School graduate and University of Maine sophomore will compete next week in the skiercross national championships at Copper Mountain, Colo. Laflamme won the Maine Mountain Series to qualify automatically for the nationals in the 19-over division. He’s ranked third nationally, and in one of his races this season he defeated Andrew Baker who is currently ranked No. 1.

Skiercross, or ski cross, is an offshoot of border cross, the event in which Maine snowboarder Seth Wescott won two Olympic gold medals. It follows the same format with four (and sometimes six) competitors racing side by side down a twisting course with several turns and jumps. The sport made its Olympic debut in Vancouver in 2010.

Laflamme, who played football, ran track and skied at Winthrop, got hooked on the sport two years ago. He competed in the 2011 nationals where he finished 11th after falling on the course. Maine Mountain Series director Sean Keough likes Laflamme’s chances this time around.

“He comes from an Alpine racing background and he’s got good technical skills,” Keough said.

Laflamme still participates in Alpine races but ski cross is his passion and he said his long-term goal is to “get sponsored and get paid for something I love to do.”

He’ll compete in time trials Saturday. From there, the top 32 skiers advance to Tuesday’s finals. Most races take about 50 seconds or so and those with the fastest times get to pick which gate they’ll leave from.

“The biggest part is the start,” Laflamme said. “If you get out in front you have a better chance.”

Keough said the Copper Mountain course is quite similar to Sugarloaf’s, which routinely draws competitors from throughout New England because of its length and difficulty.

“The hole shot is important,” Keough said of the start. “You just have to have the ability to absorb terrain and stay on top of the course.”

Keough said the top races have a combination of Alpine racing and freestyle skills and winning is less about fearlessness than it is about technical skills and the ability to memorize gates and rollers (or jumps). It’s also important to get back on the ground as quickly as possible after taking a jump.

“It’s focus and technical skills,” he said. “The pure fastest skier isn’t going to win the race. It’s the fastest skier who has control.”

The next step for Laflamme is the men’s open class which features some of the top ski cross competitors in the world.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

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