Sam Morse was looking to end his ski season by having some fun. And he found the perfect place to do it in his home state.

Morse, the 22-year-old member of the U.S. ski team from Carrabassett Valley, will be among the skiers to watch in the World Pro Ski Tour race at Sunday River this weekend.

The Visit Maine Pro Ski Championships will be held on Friday and Saturday, featuring four skiers from the recent PyeongChang Olympics as well as two NCAA champions from Dartmouth College.

“It’s been a long year of competing,” said Morse, who skied on the World Cup tour and was ranked sixth overall on the NorAm series this winter. “This sounds like a fun event.”

It’s an entirely different sort of ski race. In its second year, the World Pro Ski Tour uses a unique dual format in which skiers race against each other on what they call a super slalom course – more space between the gates than on a slalom course, less space than on a giant slalom course.

In its inaugural year in 2017, the tour held one race – at Sunday River. This year, the tour has three events, the final one on Sunday River’s Monday Mourning Race Arena. There will be nearly 40 skiers for Friday’s qualifying event, with the top 32 times advancing to the dual finals on Saturday. The prize purse is $30,000 with the winner receiving $10,000.

For the first time, there will be a separate women’s category, with eight skiers racing on Saturday. The winner will receive $1,000. The races will be shown on the CBS Sports Network on April 15.

“I think a lot of people have fun here,” said Nolan Kasper, a U.S. ski team member from Warren, Vermont, who has participated in the last three Winter Olympics. “It’s a fun format, something we don’t typically do, the head-to-head racing. I know I enjoy the atmosphere, the camaraderie between the skiers. I love the whole event.

“I know the Olympics is the biggest event in ski racing, and a lot of other sports. But they do a good job of putting on the race here, getting people to watch and cheer. It’s cool. It’s the highlight of the end of the season for me.”

The World Pro Ski Tour was originally known as the U.S. Pro Ski Tour and ran in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a made-for-TV sport that allowed amateur skiers to compete head-to-head with some of the best in the world for prize money totaling $1 million. The tour folded when founder Ed Rogers of Bath sold it in 1998. In 2015, Rogers announced he was bringing the tour back. It finally happened last year.

Tour officials and sponsors – such as Tito’s Handmade Vodka, of Austin, Texas, and Greenhead Lobster, of Stonington – liked what they saw last year at Sunday River. This year the tour expanded to include stops in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, and Snowmass, Colorado.

“We’re always looking to the future,” said Craig Marshall, director of sales and marketing and a former competitive skier at Carrabassett Valley Academy and Colby College. “Obviously we have a lot of connections to ski areas across the country. One of the most important things is finding venues that buy into our vision and want to be long-term partners. We’ve had a lot of good discussions on that front. And we’re always talking to new sponsors.

“Our goal is six events. If we did five we’d be really happy. If we can continue that growth for the next few years, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Marshall said tour officials would like to have the same the prize money for men and women. But he said the $10,000 prize in the open division had been budgeted all year. The women’s race was added just recently, and Marshall said tour officials were able to find a sponsor (Orbitwear) to help with winnings in that category.

Marshall said it has been more difficult this year to attract top skiers with the Winter Olympics in February. But this is still a deep, competitive field.

Kasper is joined by fellow U.S. Olympian Mark Engel, who finished 31st in the slalom in the Olympics. Also competing are Slovakian Olympic skiers Adam Zampa and Andreas Zampa. Michael Ankeny, who has finished third in the first two legs of the tour, will be there. Dartmouth College’s Tanguy Nef (the NCAA Division I slalom champ) and Brian McLaughlin (the NCAA giant slalom champ) will also compete.

Morse, who is back at Dartmouth for his second semester of studies, is looking forward to testing his skills against them.

“I like racing people,” he said. “It certainly brings out the competitiveness with a guy standing next to you. I know this is a slalom skier event in some ways. I’m going to try to show it can be not just for slalom skiers.”

Morse said skiers have to change their style in the head-to-head format. “Absolutely. You’re not skiing against the clock, but another skier. When you’re racing regulation, you’re trying to think technically. In the dual format, everything is out the window. You rely on instinct and reaction.”

Morse, who won the world junior championships downhill in 2017, is one of the up-and-coming Alpine skiers in the U.S. He had a strong, consistent, season competing on the Europa Cup, the World Cup and the Nor-Am series. He competes in not only the downhill, but the slalom, giant slalom and Alpine combined.

“He’s continued to excel in all four events,” said Marshall. “You don’t typically see a guy who wins a big event, like the juniors downhill, have so much success across the board. But every time he skies, he shows top-level speed consistently.”

Morse was ranked first in Alpine combined on the Nor-Am tour this year. He recently had a sixth in the Alpine combined and an eighth in Super-G in the U.S. championships.

“It was a really good season,” said Morse. “I know places mean something to people. But to me it comes down to margins, how far off the lead are you? How did you ski? This season was about trying at the next level. I think it was a pretty good season.”

Morse said he is committed to becoming even better next year.

“Each race does matter but the sport is much larger than any one race,” he said. “It is a journey and a progression. And if you trust that progression and journey, you can have success at the end.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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