Pratt’s Brook. Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village. Twin Brook. Sugarloaf Outdoor Center. Nordic Heritage Center. Grafton Notch. These are just some of the Maine places I got to know because of cross-country skiing — or, more specifically, because of Bob Morse.
Morse has been coaching high-school cross-country skiing for 48 years, and he has more than 30 state championships to his name. (I may have helped win one or two of those as a member of the Yarmouth High School Clippers team in the ’90s). A champion skimeister himself at Deering High School in 1962, Morse is a Maine legend, but his impressive stats aren’t the only reason he’s revered. Ask any former Clipper, and they’ll tell you about his quirky, light-footed style and his uncanny ability to instill young athletes with a lifetime love of the sport.
More than 15 years have passed since I put on a Yarmouth racing suit, but I still remember the pre-race buzz, long van rides, and trailside chats. Ultimately, what’s really stuck with me are the values that Morse taught — values inherent to the sport of Nordic skiing:
It’s democratic. Anyone can slap on a pair of Nordic skis and get out in the snow. Unlike alpine skiing, the cost to participate is low, and you don’t have to travel far to do it.
It’s hard work. In cross-country skiing, you have to earn the downhill respites. It’s a sport that teaches grit and tenacity and endurance. I can still hear the cowbells cheering me on at the top of an intimidating hill and feel the sense of accomplishment that came with crossing the finish line.
It instills an appreciation for natural beauty. Whether you ski in a park, a ski center, or your own backyard woods, you’re immersed in nature, away from man-made, mechanical noise. And the woods are different in winter — silent, still, and softened by snow.
It illuminates the rewards of solitude. Being alone in the woods in winter can be serene and it can be intimidating. But that’s what makes cross-country skiing so fulfilling. As a busy professional and mom, I find I appreciate the meditative quality of the sport now more than ever.
In “One XC-llent Winter” (page 44), another former Morse protégé, Clark Shepard, salutes a few of our favorite places to explore this contemplative season. After reading it, I’ve added some new locations to my Nordic bucket list. In my opinion, though, the best places to ski are always the ones closest to home.
Finally, a note to Bob Morse, who is retiring from coaching this month. On behalf of the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of us you’ve inspired to love this sport, thank you. Heia! Heia!