The air was cold and the snow unrelenting during the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Alpine skiing championships, blanketing the Titcomb Mountain slalom trail with a layer of new powder that was only thickening as the day wore on.

New snow can be trouble for racers used to carving up packed snow. The terrain becomes unreliable — smooth and fast in parts, lumpy and slow in others. Rachel Tooth was one of the first skiers to head down the trail. Moments later, the others were chasing her time. By the time they were done, no one had caught her.

It was the latest example in what’s become a pattern. Throughout her career, few conditions have been able to trip up the Maranacook senior.

“I think my strength is I’m confident, since I’ve been on skis since I was very little,” she said. “I think that I can adjust to many different weather conditions, as I have skied my whole life and I’m used to it.”

Tooth wrapped up her skiing career as one of Class B’s most consistent downhill skiers, taking the KVAC slalom crown and finishing third in the giant slalom at the state championship meet. For her performance, Tooth is the Kennebec Journal Alpine Skier of the Year.

“(She’s) very strong and, pound for pound, probably one of the strongest athletes I’ve ever had,” coach Ronn Gifford said. “She’s tough as nails.”

It’s easy to see where Tooth’s flexibility with different terrains has its origin. Tooth had extensive skiing experience when she arrived at Maranacook, but it was all in freestyle. After deciding to join the Black Bears’ racing team, she had to learn the tenets of Alpine skiing — not just how to generate speed, but the basics. She had to learn how to turn, with a carve instead of a slide. She had to learn where to keep her feet.

“It was hard for me to get my feet apart because I’ve been told for so many years to keep my feet together in moguls,” she said. “But finally my coach got me to get the right racing stance.”

At the same time, however, Gifford could see the potential. A skier who can make it down a mogul course has the balance to handle any trail, and he knew that, while Tooth needed some work, she didn’t need much.

“With those natural talents that she brought to Alpine ski racing … once we got her to the point of being on edge and carving a turn, it was very natural for her,” he said. “She really did not need a lot of coaching after that first year or so.”

By her junior season, Tooth was the team’s top skier, but she added a dimension to her skill set this winter. Always more comfortable in the giant slalom, Tooth nonetheless bested the field for her first KVAC slalom title, zipping through the snowflakes to beat Camden Hills’s Ella Simon for first place.

“I was very, very happy because I won the GS KVAC title last year, so I feel like I competed very well and I was happy to take home the slalom,” she said. “I usually don’t place very well in slalom. That was definitely a highlight of my year.”

The success appeared primed to repeat in states, as Tooth was third in the giant slalom and first after the first run of the slalom. Her hopes for a slalom title were dashed in the second run, however, when she lost her balance and fell, paving the way for a 44th-place showing that dropped her to 37th overall.

“I was in first after my first run, and I think it just got in my head a little bit,” she said. “When I came down the second run, I should have taken my time a little more because I went a little too fast and out of control.”

Perhaps. But it wasn’t enough to overshadow a year of success, and yet another strong showing by the former Alpine newcomer.

“Mostly, I just wanted to focus on having fun, since this is my last year,” she said. “And I think I succeeded.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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