CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Construction of a $2 million Competition Center at Sugarloaf is set to begin in May, buoyed by a donation for half that amount as organizations say the new building will help the booming skiing and snowboarding community in western Maine.

The 11,000-square-foot center is projected to be completed by November to ensure that the building will be functional by the 2016-2017 winter season. The center will be used collaboratively by the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club, Carrabassett Valley Academy and Sugarloaf. All three of those organizations have competition at “the heart” of their missions, according to the academy.

Sugarloaf’s existing competition center at the base of the resort is outdated, with no running water and no bathrooms, and it is too small, according to the academy’s head of school, Kate Punderson. The new center will be built in the same location as the existing one, but the structure will be expanded.

“It’s been a dream to upgrade the facility for many years. We’ve been planning it and just waiting for the right time and the right opportunity,” Punderson said.

That opportunity got a boost with a $1 million donation from the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation to Carrabassett Valley Academy. The donation is intended to not only help build a competition center at the base of Sugarloaf, but also to help build relationships and networking opportunities among Sugarloaf community members by giving young and experienced skiers and snowboarders a competition hub.

“On behalf of my family and the foundation, I am very pleased to support this impressive partnership that is bringing a new competition center to Sugarloaf,” Bill Alfond, president of the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation, said in a news release. “Not only will the new facility continue to inspire Maine youth to raise their aspirations through athletics but it will also be an important economic driver for their region.”

Sugarloaf and its partners in the competition center are working to raise the remaining funding necessary to complete the project.

The center will feature a day lodge space, locker rooms, tuning and waxing facilities, office and meeting space, as well as a trainer’s room.

Punderson said the new space will allow aspiring and established competitors to have a home base on the mountain and have access to the equipment maintenance and facilities necessary to support their passion. With office and meeting space also included in the center, Sugarloaf organizers will have the facilities needed to bring regional and national competitions to the mountain for the western Maine community.

World Cup mogul skier Jeremy Cota, 27, said that when he enrolled at the academy in eighth grade, he didn’t have goals to pursue his athletic career, let alone become a member of the U.S. Ski Team, which he did seven years ago. But Cota, originally from Greenville, said that throughout his high school years at the academy, he was immersed in the competition community that surrounded Sugarloaf and that, as his dreams grew, that community was there to support him.

“That program and community is very much structured for competition, (and) you get inspired being there,” Cota said. “I dreamed of winning a gold medal, and CVA gave me the support I needed, the coaching, the facility — everything I needed to do that. … I think this new facility will help sort of set forth these goals.”

Cota has placed first twice in U.S. Championships, for dual moguls in 2010 and moguls in 2012. At the 2015 World Cup, Cota placed second for moguls. During his time at the academy, Cota traveled out of state for competitions but always could guarantee being able to compete in at least two mogul competitions every season at Sugarloaf, which he said was “awesome” because his parents were able to go and watch him.

Because he came from Greenville, a small town, jumping into the competition scene could be at times overwhelming; but having a tight-knit competition community in the Carrabassett Valley, he always felt supported. By having the valley’s competition organizations under one roof, Cota thinks the new facility will help.

“If you ever spend a day at Sugarloaf, you’ll see how chaotic it can be. You have kids in weekend programs, so many different disciplines, and things going on,” Cota said. “It will be nice to have a central hub (for competition) to make things slightly less chaotic.”

UNDER ONE ROOF

Collaboratively, among Sugarloaf, the academy, and the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club, the new center is going to support a community for competition, resort officials say.

“A very special and unique part of the Carrabassett Valley and Sugarloaf are the partnerships,” Punderson said.

Sugarloaf’s competition program will operate from the new competition center. The program works to organize and bring competitions to the mountain that range in levels from high school races to the U.S. Alpine Championships, which Sugarloaf hosted in 2015 and will host again in 2016.

“Sugarloaf, it is fair to say, is sort of recognized as the premiere competitive alpine destination in the east,” Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin said.

For competitions, Sugarloaf organizes the event, makes the snow, maintains the course and sets up the safety aspects. But for the amount of staffing it takes to run an event, that’s where the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski club and its nearly 1,400 members step in.

“The Sugarloaf ski club is heavy on the operation side. That really makes the whole (competition) possible,” Austin said.

Ski club President Bruce Miles said the club and its members have had a focus on competition and fostering an overall community around the love of the sport since they carved the first trail on Sugarloaf Mountain in 1950.

For the ski club, the new competition center will serve as a clubhouse on the mountain. The Ski Club serves as a scholarship program and a volunteer and social organization that aims to be a service to Sugarloaf with an emphasis on youth, organizing social events for club members, and continuing to support competitive events of all levels at the mountain, according to its website.

“Having this home is going to really take us to that next level,” Miles said. “We’ll be able to communicate better. The people who come here for competitions, everything, will be under one roof.”

STEADY AND STRONG

In 1968, the ski club formed the Sugarloaf Regional Ski Education Foundation, which started running racing and competition programs for area youth looking to take their love of the sport to the next level. In 1982, Carrabassett Valley Academy formed out of the Ski Education Foundation to establish a formal ski academy at Sugarloaf to allow young athletes to stay in western Maine rather than go out of state to attend a similar program.

The ski education program still operates as a scholarship program to help children and teenagers pay for training and other competition expenses. The academy provides its students with academic and mountain-based programs so they can hone their educational and athletic skills simultaneously.

“One of the main purposes of the Carrabassett Valley Academy is to introduce young skiers and snowboarders to competition,” Punderson said. “CVA remains successful because Sugarloaf continues to host and be very supportive of competitions. For CVA to remain viable, we need to keep these partnerships steady and strong.”

With the new competition center, the three organizations hope to be able to work together to foster a booming competition hub at Sugarloaf. Specifically for the CVA students, Punderson said, the ability to have a strong competition network will grow their love and dedication to their sport further.

“This competition center will be a nice home base for them. They can come and have lunch and they can meet each other. One thing that keeps kids in sports is having fun and having fun with their friends. And (this) venue for kids will get the social networking aspect in,” Punderson said.

Aside from its full-term enrolled students, the academy also offers competition-aimed programs on weekends and school break that draw young athletes from all over Maine. The academy’s ability to use the competition center for those program goes to show how the Sugarloaf community actively is reinforcing a positive, accessible environment for young athletes, according to Punderson.

“It really is another good example of how everybody in this really cares about kids and providing great life experiences for kids and the value of sports, and teaches incredible life lessons for kids,” Punderson said.

Austin shared Punderson’s sentiment about the importance of fostering a strong competition community among local athletes, and he was quick to refer to CVA alumni such as Seth Wescott, Bode Miller and Sam Morse, who flourished, reaching international levels of success after their time in the Carrabassett Valley.

“That’s a huge aspect of the competition program up here at Sugarloaf,” Austin said. “We’ve had Sugarloafers and CVA alumni who have competed at the ultimate highest level.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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