Sam Morse, shown during training with the U.S. Alpine team in Copper Mountain, Colorado, has been on the U.S. team since 2015. U.S. Ski & Snowboard photo

Like almost every athlete, Sam Morse’s competitive world came to a halt last March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down all sports, including the World Cup ski circuit in Europe.

Morse, who grew up in Carrabassett Valley about seven minutes from the main entrance to Sugarloaf, is one of the rising downhill skiers on the U.S. Alpine team. With everything on hold, Morse came home to Maine. And that time home with his parents, Earle and Pam Morse, helped Morse hit the refresh button.

Last weekend, Sam Morse earned his first World Cup points during a downhill race in Italy. Max Hall/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Morse, 24, took online classes through Dartmouth College – where he is in his sophomore year – and explored rivers and trails near his home that he had never knew existed, posting his adventures with his parents on Instagram in a series called Project 29. When summer came, he went to Utah to train with Team USA – taking more online classes – and then returned home for October.

At that time, he passed his Maine Guide test and is now able to lead his own groups into the wilderness after spending years as an assistant guide to his former coach at Carrabassett Valley Academy, Chip Cochrane.

“That whole time was awesome,” Morse said recently during a call from Val Gardena, Italy. “Living at home, laying low, trying not to do too much.”

And now, it’s all about getting back to work. On Saturday, Morse earned the first two World Cup points of his career in a downhill race at Val Gardena. He finished 29th, just 2.21 seconds behind the winner, Alexsander Aamodt Kilde of Norway. Three Americans finished in the top six, five in the top 30 – which is where the racers earn World Cup points and prize money.

Morse, nicknamed Moose, had finished 45th in his first race of the season, on Dec. 13 at Val d’Isere, France, but he was just 2.47 seconds off the winning time. So in the days leading into Val Gardena, he made it his goal of reaching the top 30.

Morse now ranks 34th among World Cup downhill skiers.

“Getting my first World Cup points was a huge step in my career that I’m really proud of,” said Morse in an email. “I feel like I belong on the World Cup now, like I’m part of the club.”

It was only a matter of time.

“It has been a steady climb for Sam,” said Randy Pelkey, the men’s Alpine speed coach for the U.S. team. “Last year (was about) learning the tracks and spending the off season working on his technical base. This race season, he is willing to take more risk with his familiarity and has better comfort with the tracks.”

Cochrane, who also coached former U.S. Alpine star Bode Miller, agreed that it’s been a steady climb for Morse.

“He comes about it very slow and methodically, he doesn’t risk life and limb to move up the ranks, which is what Bode did and which is what I did, too,” said Cochrane. “I encouraged him to do it his way, which is what everybody has to do. Sometimes it is frustrating to watch Sam inching his way up the ranks. But he’s not getting injured and is skiing with a lot of confidence. He’ll have his day.”

Morse followed up his first World Cup points by finishing 26th in super G in a Europa Cup race, which is a step below the World Cup circuit. He was 1.63 seconds off the lead.

Morse, who is on the U.S. Alpine B team, knows he has to bide his time. Not only is the U.S. team deep, as evidenced by the results at Val Gardena, but it’s also experienced. And speed racing, he said, is best suited to experienced racers.

“It’s becoming more of an older man’s game, there are guys racing over 40,” said Morse. “I’m still on the younger side of it. It’s a matter of learning the tracks and being patient. It’s a long game.”

He is willing to be patient because of his faith. Morse’s parents are pastors at the Sugarloaf Christian Ministry. He hopes this summer to start a faith-based ski camp for children.

“(Faith) certainly has helped me throughout my career, just knowing there’s something out there bigger than you,” said Morse. “It puts sports in perspective and takes pressure off. If sports is all you’ve got, you’ll get distraught when things don’t go your way.”

His mother, Pam, said his faith helps propel Morse forward in a sometimes uncertain world.

“His doors are wide open. And, for him, it’s his faith that propels him,” she said. “Which is pretty cool and pretty mature in the sense of he really believes that he is here to make a difference in the world. And he will use any of these venues, whether skiing or guiding people through woods, to bring more hope and joy into the world.”

Morse realizes he is fortunate to be in Europe skiing right now. On Christmas Day, he and his U.S. teammates will travel to Bormio, Italy, for the next World Cup race.

“In terms of the world and its problems, ski racing is not high on the list. It’s OK if we can’t race,” Morse said. “But we’re fortunate to work with Team USA (and) FIS (the international governing body of skiing). Skiing is a pretty great sport. We’re outside and bundled up. It’s nice they’ve been able to make it work.”

Morse has been on the U.S. team since 2015 and won the downhill junior world championship in 2017. But he isn’t defined by the sport.

He’s known for writing in journals to help him keep focused on what he’s doing. He hopes to someday get an engineering degree from Dartmouth, joking that he’s “on the 12-year plan.”

The outdoors is a big part of his life, which is why he wanted to become a Maine Guide. He has helped Cochrane for years on seven-day guided trips through the Allagash. “As he came up in the (skiing) ranks,  he dabbled in a lot of different things,” said Cochrane. “So it wasn’t a surprise at all. He’s a natural in the outdoors.”

“I love being in the outdoors,” said Morse. “Getting other people out there is so much fun, particularly people who don’t normally experience the wilderness.”

And he loves skiing. With the Beijing Winter Olympics coming in 2022, it’s a good time for Morse to start earning World Cup points. They go a long way to determining who will be on the U.S. team.

“Absolutely, the Olympics are on my mind,” said Morse. “I’ve been on that track since making the U.S. team. It’s a huge goal.”

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