There was nothing new about seeing Robbie McKee take to the starting line for the Maranacook Alpine team this year. The junior’s been the Black Bears’ best skier the past two winters.

What was different this time, however, was what was going through McKee’s mind as he got ready to go down yet another trail and post yet another high finish.

“My race mode focus switched gears from being more of a tacticial skier … into more of getting into the start gate, being in the zone and just going as fast as you can,” McKee said. “I’m kind of glad I figured that out, because that mentality is a lot more fun.”

And, as McKee showed this season, productive. McKee posted top-10 finishes in both Class B Alpine championships at Black Mountain, finishing third in the slalom and eighth in the giant slalom. For his performance, McKee is the Kennebec Journal Boys Alpine Skier of the Year. Winthrop’s Maguire Anuszewski, who won the Mountain Valley Conference slalom and giant slalom titles, was also considered.

McKee was also the KVAC slalom champion and a fifth-place finisher in the giant slalom, and as good as he was on the slopes, coach Ronn Gifford said he was just as effective in helping to guide Maranacook’s team to a fifth-place finish.

“This is his second year as a captain for us, and this year all our captains really stepped to the forefront,” he said. “Robbie’s just done a great job. Very vocal, very helpful, very insightful.”

On the course, however, McKee had to make a mental adjustment. Gifford knew his junior was talented, but that something was missing before he could reach his potential.

“Robbie’s always been an incredible technician, in terms of his work on his form, his work on trying to make the perfect carve turn,” Gifford said. “But he’s historically struggled between finding that balance between making the turn you need to make, and yet not holding back on the throttle.”

McKee noticed the same thing Gifford did. Technique is important, but at the expense of speed, it can only take a skier so far.

“My freshman and sophomore years, I had always seen the races as who could be the best skier, who could be the most tactical skier and have the most clean turns,” he said. “And then come junior year, I realized you don’t just win races like that. I definitely shifted my focus away from that into who can be the most athletic skier, and who can be just the fastest skier.”

And the most confident. Skiing with speed requires a different attitude, one free from any doubt or hesitation.

“My mentality shifted away. I rarely consider crashing when I’m in the start,” McKee said. “It’s not a way to cope, it just never crosses my mind. I rarely ever feel any sort of fear or anything. Now it’s more about being who can go down the fastest, and not just who can get down.”

McKee had his new approach, and he soon saw the results on the leaderboards. After a slow start that saw him finish outside the top 10 in both of his first two events (despite top-five runs on both days), McKee was in the top 10 in each of his last eight meets. He had the fastest run twice, the second-fastest run five times and won a KVAC giant slalom – his weaker event of the two.

“In giant slalom I still think it’s coming, he finds it at times,” Gifford said. “But he’s really found the confidence and the understanding of just going for it, letting the throttle go and staying away from the brake pedal.”

At the KVAC championships, he placed fifth in the giant slalom while admittedly holding back to ensure a good team result. But in the slalom, with a chance to beat Mt. Blue’s Eli Yeaton – who had gotten the better of him throughout the regular season – McKee let it rip, laying down the fastest second run to take the overall title.

“He consistently beat me throughout the year, which somewhat fueled it,” McKee said. “ ‘This kid’s beaten me all season long, and this is my last opportunity to put it down and just do it.’ ”

It was a good memory from a good season, but McKee said he’s looking forward to bigger things as a senior.

“This year was super important in getting my legs underneath me to go into next year hitting the ground running, and making sure I’m set to go,” he said. “It definitely goes by fast, so if you come into it not completely prepared and knowing exactly what you need to do, it’s an easy way to miss an opportunity.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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