, Newburyport, MA

December 28, 2013

A life on the slopes

By Jim Sullivan

---- — Carrabassett Valley Academy senior, Liam Bechtel really can’t say when he started skiing, it’s been that long.

“I don’t really go to the beach that much,” Bechtel admitted. “I’m better at skiing then I am walking.”

Skiing is a way of life for the Bechtel family, the Newburyport native and his family would go to Sugarloaf Mountain every weekend for as long as he can remember and when it came time for high school, Bechtel could think of no better place than CVA which is nestled at the bottom of the mount.

“It’s really awesome that I get to do it and I am really lucky,” says Bechtel. “It’s a college-prep school, so you’re expected to go to college after. We take all high school classes. I’m taking Calculus and Physics and English. I took four years of Spanish.”

It was the Alpine Leadership Pursuits for Skiers and Snowboarders (ALPS) program that drew and keeps Bechtel in Carrabassett Valley. A non-competitive backcountry and ski mountaineering team, ALPS teaches its athletes the necessary skills to safely negotiate mountainous terrain on both the ascent and descent. The disciplines include, introductory mountaineering skills, steep skiing techniques, snow science, backcountry travel/camping, and wilderness medicine. At its conclusion, each ALPS graduate is expected to have the knowledge and physical ability to explore the mountains of the world, or as Bechtel put it more succinctly; “Some days we’ll ski at the resort, then some days we’ll go out in the backcountry and shred.”

A normal day at CVS starts with four hours of skiing then classes until dark, then it’s homework and bed and the slopes await once again in the morning.

“We do all the normal high school classes and when we go on trips, the teachers send us all the tests and stuff,” said Bechtel who recently returned from a ski trip to Utah and is headed to British Columbia after the Christmas break. The 18-year-old has also skied in Germany and Austria and counts La Meije in La Grave France as his favorite destination so far and with eight other team members ages 14 and up, Bechtel can often find himself in a leadership role.

“I am kind of like the senior member,” said Bechtel. “So if there was something that went horribly wrong, I would be third in command, I guess, because we have a coach and then an intern. It’s not a specific job; it’s just that I have more experience.”

When he is not training, he’s skiing. Bechtel has passed an 80-hour wilderness medicine course as well as an avalanche survival course and will be receiving even more preparation in the future but has never found himself in a life-threatening situation as of yet.

“From a skill-set standpoint, he is definitely one of my top athletes,” ALPS program director and coach, Ian Hubbard said of Bechtel. “He is very much in a leadership role. The ability levels are all over the map when we get kids in the program, I often times rely upon him to teach the kids a little bit.”

A backcountry trip to Maine’s highest mountain, Mount Katahdin this coming March will give Bechtel and his teammates a chance put all their training to good use.

“The first day we hike in about 15 miles to get to the huts,” said Bechtel. “Then we stay in the hut for the first night and then hike even further in to the base of the mountain and we stay in a lean-to. We use skins (on the bottom of the skis) so when you push forward, it’s glides and when you try to pull back, it catches so that you can climb on snow that way. Then we take them off and ski down. Basically, we climb up the mountain and go ski different roads all day.”

Bechtel has broken four bones in his lifetime but strangely enough, none of them while skiing.

“He is a great young man,” Hubbard said of Bechtel. “He’s an excellent student, a very talented musician; he has a great attitude and is very supportive of the other kids in the program. He represents what, as the end result, what this program should be. It is nice to be able to show that to the new kids entering the program, he really embodies what I want the kids to take away from it. He has really been a standout for me and that’s the best way I can describe him.”