March 25, 2017

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) To the casual skier, Sugarloaf's storied Narrow Gauge Trail doesn't seem so cramped or crazy. But that changes when it's prepared for competition and skiers are reaching highway speeds.

Suddenly those trees seem awfully close.

''The name says it all. That thing is stinkin' narrow. They don't build trails like that anymore,'' said Sam Morse, who attended nearby Carrabassett Valley Academy.

The Narrow Gauge Trail is the only East Coast ski course to host a World Cup downhill, and it's the focus of the U.S. Alpine Championships. The four-day competition starts Saturday.

Some of the biggest names were absent as skiers rest up after the grueling World Cup circuit. Those include current World Cup overall winner Mikaela Shiffrin, four-time overall World Cup winner Lindsey Vonn and Olympic medalists Julia Mancuso, Ted Ligety and Andrew Weibrecht.

That leaves room for up-and-comers like Morse, Massachusetts native Alice Merryweather and Colorado's River Radamus to shine while competing against other veteran skiers.

Morse and Merryweather made history when both won gold in the downhill event at the World Junior Nationals in Sweden, marking the first American gold-medal downhill sweep of the event. Radamus won the silver medal for the alpine combined at the same event.

Sugarloaf has hosted the nationals five other times and the resort is familiar to Morse, who's skied the course plenty of times while attending Carrabassett Valley Academy, which also produced Olympic and World Cup gold medalist Bode Miller and Olympic snowboard cross gold medalist Seth Wescott.

Anyone who visits Sugarloaf can zip down the same trail where World Cup skiers raced in 1971.

But the course changes for competitions with soft snow being moved aside in favor of a hard packed icy surface that's fast and consistent for the skiers. Skiers can hit 60 mph during the Super G, which was held Saturday and is the fastest of the events.

''You ski pretty much wall to wall on the trail. It feels faster because everything is flying past you. It's different from being on a wide open trail,'' Morse said.

All of the skiers are weary after a long season, which concludes Wednesday.

''I'm definitely feeling pretty tired at this point but not so tired that I can't finish out the season,'' Merryweather said. ''Mentally, I'm feeling pretty drained.''

Both she and Morse said the skiers were ready for a final competition. ''It's the nationals. The national championships are on the line,'' Morse said.

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