READFIELD — The conditions were a little icy as Zola Roberts, 11, skied down the local slalom run on Sunday morning, with sets of colorful bead necklaces bouncing around her neck.

“It was slow and kind of packy,” Roberts said, meaning the snow had a packed-down feeling to it.

But she enjoyed the run, she continued, before grabbing onto a rope that, with the help of a motor, tugged her back up the hill.

Her coach and father, Weber Roberts, had brought 16 young skiers from their home mountain, the Camden Snow Bowl, to Readfield for a fundraiser that’s held every year in the memory of Marlee Johnston, a Fayette girl who was slain a dozen years ago.

“This is our favorite event,” Weber Roberts said of the annual Race to Remember, which supports improvements to the Joanne and Dick O’Connor Alpine Training Center. “We love supporting the fundraiser.”

The ski center is part of Kents Hill School but is also open to other skiers. Participants in the race frequently wear tie-dye shirts, faux floral leis, polka-dotted tutus and other colorful garb for which Johnston was known to have a soft spot.

Since Marlee Johnson was slain in November 2005, at the age of 14, by a boy she had befriended, her family has been organizing fundraisers in her name. The event is called the Marlee Johnston Alpine Ski Race to Remember.

This year provided a particularly strong display of the momentum those fundraisers have developed, according to her father, Ted Johnston: about 180 kids of all ages participated, even though the race had to be rescheduled twice.

It was first going to be held on Jan. 13, but weather delayed it. Then they tried to hold it Jan. 14, but the machine used to groom trails needed a repair.

By Sunday morning, the machine was running again, Ted Johnston said, and at 4:30 a.m., Stephen Bell, the snow sports director at Kents Hill School, was riding it over the hill, giving the snow the corduroy texture that helps skiers dig in their inside edges.

Ted Johnston said the races usually bring in between $4,000 and $5,000, which are used to support youth programs and make improvements to the ski area, such as installing a new sound system or replacing gates. The events also benefit from the contributions of local businesses and organizations, as well as volunteers.

Soon, the center hopes to give its rope tow electric power, which would make it cleaner, Ted Johnston said. Marlee’s brother, Alec Johnston, now works as an engineer and recently had to make a repair on the existing rope tow.

On another level, the fundraisers have also allowed the Johnston family and the community-at-large to forge something positive from the tragic death of Marlee Johnston, her father said.

Besides renovations to the ski center, the Marlee Fund also provides monetary support to youth who want to ski there and attend Kents Hill School.

The competition between the children was not fierce on Sunday, as the race is not formally recognized by Maine Alpine Ski Racing, and results were not available on Sunday evening.

If anything, Ted Johnston said, the event is an opportunity for kids to practice their turns and “work the bugs” out of their system while preparing for future races and having fun.

While the rope tow may need some work, it also had plenty of admirers among the people who came to Readfield on Sunday.

With a touch of admiration, Weber Roberts acknowledged the speed of the device, which could allow skiers to take more than a dozen runs in the time it would take skiers at the Camden Snow Bowl — who must ride a comparatively slow chairlift — to take fewer than half that.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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