SUGARLOAF, Maine — There were days when he would be absent when attendance was taken at Farmington High School, instead in the snowfields of this raw-boned mountain.
Later, there were days when he would snowboard for all hours as a member of the Carrabassett Valley Academy, located at Sugarloaf. He was in the company of future luminaries such as Bode Miller, Kirsten Clark, and Forest Carey.
Fast-forward through a couple of Olympic gold medals (Turin and Vancouver, in boardercross), and coming back to partner in a barbecue restaurant (The Rack) and build a home, and you’d almost say Seth Wescott is home here at The Loaf.
But the real clincher, the icing on the cake, had to be last August, when the lanky Wescott jammed into the cockpit of a US Air Force Thunderbird out of a Brunswick, Maine, airshow and flew around his home state, with a few low-altitude victory laps around Sugarloaf, as his friends below were taking bets on whether he would pass out or throw up.
This was no standard air tour, the 700-mile-per-hour jet exploding into steep ascents, then rolling into dives, all of which produced a 9.5g centrifugal pull on the plane and the two people inside, only one of whom was used to such forces.
“It was pretty unreal,” said Wescott. “I had to concentrate on my breathing. I nearly lost it and got sick when the pilot came down to land, then punched it and climbed back up. That nearly got me.”
Wescott, who is heading home this weekend after a World Cup event in Telluride, Colo., has indeed adopted this mountain village, and in fact, at the ripe old age of 36 has taken up the mantle of a town father.
Aside from mentoring aspiring snowboaders at CVA, Wescott maintains his house and restaurant. But he also works on projects like a new irrigation system for the golf course, and takes part in planning sessions for the mountain’s mammoth development project, called “Sugarloaf 2020,” destined to make the resort the largest east of the Rocky Mountains in terms of terrain.
Though the project is far from complete, the first two phases have created some 370 acres of inbound glades termed “side country,” an alternative to back-country skiing and riding.
Burnt Mountain and Eastern Territory, the first two phases, are open, and when the expansion is complete skiers and riders will have a vast gladed expanse of 655 acres. A glade refers to any wooded area where trees have been thinned, rather than totally removed as on a traditional ski run, according to resort general manager John Diller.
The new terrain will range from the tight tree skiing common in the East to wide-open, Western-style glades and cliff bands.
“This has been a Sugarloafer’s dream,” said Diller, “to have an entire mountain to explore with the solitude of a vast wilderness area. This terrain gives skiers and riders the feel of true back country similar to some large western resorts. No grooming machines or snowmaking, no real estate, just pure skiing.”
For Wescott, who last Friday at Telluride won his first World Cup event in four years, that’s very good news. When competitive snowboarding gets a bit repetitive, he heads for open spaces, such as in Alaska and Antarctica, where he enjoys weeks of riding and exploring in solitude.
“It’s just that much more exciting to me now than the routine of World Cup,” said Wescott.
Sugarloaf’s expansion will make it unique, according to Wescott.
“Sugarloaf is just one of the greatest places to ski and ride in the East,” he said. “It has the longest vertical, a sustained pitch, and the mountain really teaches you how to perform . . . And now with all that open terrain at Burnt Mountain, it’s just a dimension you don’t find around here. Really exciting.”
Before last Friday’s event, Wescott was sounding discouraged. Talking by telephone from his hotel, where he was stretched out on the floor to aid a sore back, he complained that his speed was “horrible, off pace.” He then responded with the victory.
“My immediate [competitive] goal is to take one more try at it.” said Wescott, meaning attempting to qualify for his third Olympics, in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Wescott said he ran into Miller in the fall, and that both, despite persistent injuries, have their sights set on Sochi.
“You know, we’re not kids anymore,” said Wescott, “and the depth of talent is stronger worldwide. But we’re going to take one more shot at it.”
In 2006, Wescott became the first Olympic gold medalist in boardercross, a contact event in which several riders race down a winding course at the same time. Four years later, he won the gold again at the Vancouver Games.
He also has won a gold and three silver medals in world championships, and three silvers and a bronze in the X Games. Whenever Wescott competes on a big stage, those at Sugarloaf keep close watch on the results.
“I love coming home,” said Wescott. “Sugarloaf is just one great community to be part of.”