The best ski rivalry in the state doesn’t come in the most natural of ways.

Mt. Blue is a Class A program. Maranacook is in Class B. They face each other in regular-season meets, but don’t compete against one another when it’s time for the state championship.

However, from December straight through until the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships — which take place this week — it’s as competitive of a rivalry as it gets.

If you’re looking for a bloodthirsty, Yankees vs. Red Sox type of rivalry, this isn’t it. In fact, it’s one of the friendlier rivalries you’ll find.

With that said, competitors want to win. And when it’s time to race, for a few brief moments, friendship is set aside.

“You would definitely have to characterize it as a friendly rivalry,” Maranacook Nordic coach Steve DeAngelis said. “Our kids genuinely like to compete against them. After the races, they’re talking to each other, hanging out with each other….It’s intense while we’re skiing, but it’s very friendly. I think they have great ski program (at Mt. Blue) and we really respect them.”

“Ronn Gifford (the Maranacook Alpine coach) and I are great friends,” Mt. Blue Alpine coach Mark Cyr said. “He’s one of my assistant coaches when we go over to the Eastern High School Championships in New Hampshire every year. I love working with Ronn. I think the kids respect the rivalry but also I think they like the kids from Maranacook. I think they’re some friendships that go on there, because they are very similar in what they have going on for a (home mountain). I think it’s good, it’s a healthy rivalry/friendship.”

The two programs push each other to be its best, and the results have paid off in dividends over the years. Since 1992, the Cougars have 16 Class A boys titles (including their Nordic title last year), with stretches of six consecutive (2000-2005), five consecutive (2007-2011) and three consecutive (2014-2016) championship runs.

There’s even more success on the girls side, where Mt. Blue has 20 Class A titles since 1991, including an incredible stretch of 11 championships in a row from 1992-2002. The Cougars have not won a girls title only six times in the past 25 years.

The Black Bears have also enjoyed their fare share of success. Maranacook has 10 boys Class B championships since 1992. In that same time frame, they have six girls Class B titles.

There have been multiple years where the rivalry has equally benefitted both schools in the form of a state championship. In girls skiing, Mt. Blue and Maranacook finished the season as Class A and Class B champs, respectively, five times (1992, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2006). On the boys side, that feat has happened six times (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2014, 2015).

So what makes the rivalry so successful?

A logical explanation was given by Cyr, who explained that the short distance between both schools and their home mountains gives both programs the opportunity to practice every day, as opposed to some other schools.

“They train every day during the week, similar to us, we have a small area in here in town and we train every day,” Cyr said. “There’s other kids that have to train at bigger mountains, other teams that train less than we do. We’re pretty much training the same amount of days, same type of mountain, so it’s a similar situation.”

DeAngelis — the elder statesman of the rivalry in his 31st season — took the success a step further, crediting both continuity and the blue collar work ethic of the Readfield and Farmington communities.

“I think there’s a certain respect that the western Maine teams have for each other,” DeAngelis said. “I would call it a blue collar work ethic….Mt. Blue, Maranacook, Leavitt, Mt. Abram, Oxford Hills. We all have really good relationships with each other. There’s a lot of respect for the work ethic.”

Because of the talent level between the two schools, Cyr was quick to point out that class means almost nothing when the two programs meet.

“There’s some really good teams in Class B,” Cyr said. “Maranacook, Yarmouth, Mountain Valley. There are some years I’m glad I’m in Class A, because the competition is a little less in Class A than it is in Class B. I think (the talent in both classes) this year are very even.”

Cyr’s statement seems to be correct, especially as the back-and-forth between the programs has continued this season, particularly in Nordic. At the Hornet Classic on Jan. 14, Mt. Blue won the boys event (Maranacook placed second), while Maranacook won the girls event (Mt. Blue placed second). A week later, the two teams traded shots again at Maranacook Waves, with Mt. Blue walking away with the top boys score (Maranacook was second), and the Black Bears took the top girls score (the Cougars placed second).

Mt. Blue walked away with a clean sweep at the Sassi Memorial on Jan. 28. The team right behind them on both sides? You guessed it, Maranacook.

“When you’re racing against someone who stretches you, it makes you better,” DeAngelis said. “Competing against a strong team like Mt. Blue is actually the best of both worlds for us.”

While it’s unknown where both programs — both in Nordic and Alpine — will land during the Class A or Class B meets, there’s almost a guarantee of three things happening between the Cougars and Black Bears.

They will wish each other luck before their respective meets. They’ll both finish near or at the top in their respective classes. And they’ll look forward to doing it all over again next season.

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer