Setting a New Course for the Valley’s Ultimate Seasonal Program … the MWV Ski Team


Since the days of Hanness Schneider, the Mt. Washington Valley has been a destination touted for its skiing expertise. Many have honed their skills on these slopes under the guidance of knowledgeable practitioners, be they from Austria or Ossipee.

The present day is no exception, with youth programs and race teams swarming every resort in the Valley. The kiddos even get midweek access, thanks to the Eastern Slope Ski Club, which allows students in local elementary schools the ability to ski once a week. It’s no wonder that the Kennett Eagles ski team has such a dominating reputation. The sport is well cultivated here; it has layers. Naturally, these programs and traditions have created a rich verdant soil, a fertile ground if you will, that has fostered the growth of one of the best ski clubs in the country: The Mount Washington Valley Ski Team (MWVST).


The Inception

For over 30 years, the MWV Ski Team has been providing an outstanding race program for local athletes. The team was born out of the necessity to provide coaching for racers who were growing out of their youth programs. A collaboration between forward-thinking coaches, parents, and ski resort managers created an option for athletes to elevate their skiing. With multiple ski areas to train at and a community passionate about skiing, the program developed relationships with local schools to create an optimal environment for growth. Much credit is due to Dave Gregory, who, starting in 1986, was the program director and head coach through the team’s formative years.

The presence and high regard attributed to MWVST is a result of Dave’s passion and drive to create highly competitive ski racers. This was a reflection of the national sense that U.S. skiing had something to prove. There was a need, as a country, to be more competitive internationally, the trickle-down effect of which created an environment of elitism. This serious attitude paid off; today the U.S. Ski Team is a powerhouse, to put it mildly. Consequently, the serious competitive mindset still pervades the majority of race organizations across the country. Once a sport has ideologically pointed itself in a certain direction, it can be hard to alter the course, despite the detrimental effects of said direction. It requires a moment of transition, not unlike the space between turns, to turn over a new leaf. Fortunately, this is exactly the moment that MWVST finds itself in.


Fresh Blood

Last season the team got a new head coach, Michael LeBlanc. Mike is excited about exploring the civic capacity of the team as a community-enhancing element. Formerly the head coach of the men’s and women’s varsity ski teams at Brown University, he consistently produced a team with one of the highest GPAs in the athletic department, while also competing for a national championship on a yearly basis.

This season, the team picks up the talents of hometown hero Leanne Smith, who has returned to the Valley after 10 seasons on the U.S. Ski Team. It is hard to find words to describe the passion and energy Leanne brings to the team. It is a natural progression for her to become part of the ski racing legacy that thrives in Mt. Washington Valley. She will follow in the footsteps of other local legends, such as Tyler Palmer, who returned to the Valley to coach after racing in the Olympics and on the World Cup circuit. The depth and experience that Leanne has gained internationally will enhance the level of coaching available to all the members of MWVST.


State of the Sport

Ski racing, at the moment, is a sport that appears to be harder and harder to participate in. The culture has become increasingly stratified by ski academies, private teams, and exclusive training facilities. The cost, from equipment to travel expenses, is daunting. The sport requires a multifaceted support structure that is not easily assembled. The Mt. Washington Valley contains all of the necessary ingredients, which makes it all the more special. Athletes have the ability to attend their local high school, live at home, and be in contact with their team and coaches. The proximity of school and family to on-snow training helps keep the sport affordable. Support from local business, in the form of donations and scholarships, also helps immensely. This gives the team the ability to provide support and scholarships to any athlete that may need it. Let’s face it, this is the kind of community support that is absolutely essential. This is what keeps athletes on snow, and athletes on snow is the program’s top priority. Financial support facilitates inclusion and diversity of athletes, which makes the team stronger.

MWVST is offering more specific options for participating than it has before. A common misconception about the Valley team is that it is only for the most serious elite racers. In reality, the team is really for any athlete who loves to ski and is interested in getting faster.

There are numerous program options based on age and goals; athletes can decide their own level of involvement. One program option is designed to help skiers making the transition between youth ski racing and point-based USSA races. There are weekend-only programs for the high school racer looking for extra training, as well as daily training programs for competitive athletes with goals of developing a point profile. These programs are customizable based on age, skill, and desire for level of competition. The new coaches are excited about their ability to be involved with the development and progression of every athlete.

This is a program born out of a common love—the love of skiing. Everyone finds joy in the magical dance of schussing a slope. There are few things in life as transcendent and unconditional as the thrill of sliding down snow. Skiing is a unique connection with nature that cannot be quantified. Programs like the MWVST foster this connection, and coaches like Michael LeBlanc and Leanne Smith plan to continue this passionate tradition of ski racing. Lessons learned in the gates echo in real life, and the MWVST wants to provide a competitive environment that fosters growth as well as a love for the sport. A team with an attitude of accountability, where athletes are given the opportunity to test themselves against the elements and their own limitations. Where the success of the individual reflects on the whole organization and times on the scoreboard are just that, and not determining factors when it comes to time with coaches. Most of all, the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Team is an organization where kids can have fun skiing with their friends.


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