CARRABASSETT VALLEY — When Alice Merryweather was a student at the Stratton Mountain School, a ski academy in southern Vermont, she and her teammates would venture to Sugarloaf each January for speed week.

“This is where I first learned how to ski downhill,” Merryweather, 22, said Tuesday afternoon after her downhill run at the US Alpine Speed Championships. “That was where I skied my first few downhills. This track has a special place in my heart.”

With her win in the downhill national championship Tuesday, Merryweather now has another reason to think fondly of Sugarloaf’s Narrow Gauge trail. With a time of 1:10.61, Merryweather claimed the downhill title, the first national championship of her career.

Alice Merryweather is all smiles after turning in a strong performance at the US Alpine championships Tuesday at Sugarloaf. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

The win caps a season of speed and growth for Merryweather, who spent most of the winter competing in downhill and Super G races on the World Cup circuit, which set the tone for her championship-winning run Tuesday.

“I’m coming into this year’s nationals more relaxed because I’m really happy how my season went on the World Cup,” said Merryweather, a Hingham, Massachusetts native. “It’s nice to not put too much pressure on myself and know that I can hang in there. I can get on the podium. This year was about trusting my skiing.”

Merryweather was relaxed enough to enjoy a breakfast sandwich and complete a Sudoku puzzle in the lodge between Tuesday morning’s NorAm downhill race, where she placed third, and the national championship run. Merryweather was the second skier on the course in the afternoon’s championship race, and shaved more than a second off her morning time, 1:11.73.

“For downhill, for me at least, I like to just stay calm down and not overthink anything… This morning was OK. I laid down a solid run. Just a couple of mistakes and it wasn’t my send-iest skiing. In this run, I just got a little more fired up. The national title was on the line, so I just kind of pinned it a little more,” Merryweather said.

Long before she was racing, Merryweather embraced speed. Liz Merryweather, Alice’s mother, recalled her daughter skiing fast to keep up with her older brother and cousin on family ski trips to New Hampshire.

“Alice would not let those boys go any faster than her. She was chasing them from the time she was on skis, and hasn’t really slowed down since,” Liz Merryweather said.

At home in Massachusetts, Merryweather’s parents routinely set their alarm for 3 or 4 a.m. to watch the live stream of their daughter’s World Cup races. They were able to travel to Europe this past season to watch a couple races in person. Merryweather described herself as an accidental speed skier.

“I never decided one day I only wanted to ski downhill and Super G. I’ve always been comfortable going fast, so my coaches kind of pushed me toward the ski event, and I went along with it. I love the feeling of going fast,” Merryweather said. “It’s terrifying, but it’s also so unique. There’s something so special about it. The downhill, it’s become my favorite, and it’s become my strongest event.”

Merryweather took fourth place in the Super G at last year’s national championships in Sun Valley, Idaho. That success carried over into the World Cup season. Merryweather took an eighth-place finish in the downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Jan. 27. Merryweather finished the World Cup season three points shy of qualifying for the finals, a bittersweet end to what was a season of improvement.

“I’m still really happy with getting consistently in the top 30. That was another huge goal of mine,” Merryweather said. “I’m happy with the progress I made, and I’m looking forward to really improving on that next year.”

On Monday, skers were given the opportunity to take a pair of downhill practice runs. Merryweather had the fastest time in the first practice run and called it good, declining the second.

Alice Merryweather gains speed during a downhill run at the US Alpine championships Tuesday at Sugarloaf. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

“I’ve skied a lot of downhill this year. I’ve been doing pretty much exclusively downhill and Super G. It’s the time of year where I know I’m pretty tired, and there was no reason to push it and ski another run where I could potentially injure myself,” Merryweather said. “You never know what’s going to happen. I figured I’d take advantage of the rest of get ready for the ski races (Tuesday).”

After the national championships this week, Merryweather will finish up classes at Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire) for the spring semester. She plans to savor the national title won at Sugarloaf, where she first learned to race as fast as she can, and enjoy some time off before prepping for the next World Cup season.

“It’s really cool to be back. To think about what I would tell myself six or seven years ago, that you would win a national title on this hill, I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Merryweather said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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