Sam Morse is back home in Carrabassett Valley this week.

It’s where he grew up, where he learned to ski. And he’d like nothing more than to have a good performance in the inaugural U.S. Alpine Speed Championships that begin Monday at Sugarloaf. The event will include men’s and women’s downhill, super G and combined races.

The national championships for slalom, giant slalom and parallel slalom will be held at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire from March 23-26.

“No question I want to podium,” said Morse. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a stacked field, a bunch of World Cuppers coming back. It will be difficult.”

But skiing isn’t the only reason the 22-year-old Morse is glad to be home. He’s spent three months in Europe this winter skiing for the U.S. B team on the Europa Cup circuit.

“Everyone is super excited to see you and talk about what it was like,” he said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of little kids, and I love that because I was one of those little kids not so long ago. Knowing I can inspire that next generation makes me feel good, because that’s what happened to me.”

This season has been a good one for Morse, who is now sponsored by Sugarloaf. He joins Seth Wescott, a two-time Olympic snowboard cross gold medal winner, as the only athletes sponsored by the resort.

By making the U.S. B team, Morse’s expenses were covered for training, competition and travel. He had four top-10 finishes in Europa Cup races.

“At the upper levels of this sport, it’s a European game,” said Morse. “You’ve got to learn to live and race over there … It’s hard to just come in for a race here and there, and do well. You’ve got to learn how to live over there, doing things to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, making some home-cooked meals, make it feel like you’re at home.”

Morse concentrated on downhill and super G. “I want to keep doors open, but at some point you’ve got to let go of trying to do everything and focus on what you’re specializing in,” he said.

Morse finished his European season competing in the World Cup at Kvitfjell, Norway, with a 45th in the downhill and 42nd in super G. His goal for next season is a top-30 finish in a World Cup race.

“He had a great season,” said Pete Anderson, the U.S. Europa Cup coach. “He really stepped up and had some success.

“I think he made some improvements technically in his skiing, just through training. And in speed skiing, it takes time. A lot of it is about experience, and getting more time on the downhill and super G.”

Morse was joined in Europe by Chip Cochrane, his former coach at Carrabassett Valley Academy (and of U.S. Alpine legend Bode Miller), who came on as a part-time coach.

“It was like old times,” said Morse. “He’s been very influential in my career as a skier, and more important, as a mentor in life. He’s somebody I can trust. And when you’re running a World Cup downhill, it’s about trusting the guy on the other end of the radio when he tells you something. It takes time to build that.”

Cochrane said he saw a much-improved Morse this winter. “He’s in better shape, more mature, athletically and physically, first off. And he had a lot of really good training sessions last summer that really completed his package of skill set. His jumps were better than they had been, he made less errors and mistakes, and his judgment on his line is better.”

Morse will rejoin the U.S. team in late April to begin training at Mammouth Mountain in California. Cochrane said he would like to see Morse work on “safe” ways to take chances on his downhill runs. Anderson is looking for Morse to develop consistency.

“He’s getting there,” said Anderson. “He made really good gains last summer. This summer will be important as well. I think he has all the basic skills necessary.”

But first Morse wants to finish strong on the NorAm circuit and have a strong showing at nationals.

“It’s his home hill,” said Cochrane. “And if the conditions are good … he’s in good shape now, skiing well, still fairly fresh … I think he could do really well.”

“It’s always fun for any athlete to have the opportunity to be at home, and perform in front of family and the home crowd,” said Anderson. “It should be fun. These are some important races for him to establish himself for next season.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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