CAPE ELIZABETH — Stuart Whittier, a 19-year-old from Cape Elizabeth, has become the youngest skier to enter the World Cup for ski cross. The skier received guidance from Michael Phelan, head ski cross coach at Carrabassett Valley Academy, where Whittier enrolled in their weekend ski program while paying for additional private lessons from Phelan. This arrangement, though unusual for CVA and one that, according to Phelan, isn’t offered to many students, was deemed worth it for both the school and for Whittier.
“The school worked really hard to make this happen. We made it work for him. We saw the value in Stu and we knew he would go far,” said Phelan.
The unusual situation was brought about by Whittier’s decision to remain at the Maine Coast Waldorf School, where he was attending when he altered his focus from alpine skiing, which he’d been doing from the age of two, to ski cross. Seeing his potential, CVA asked Whittier to enroll full time at the age of 14, but Whittier declined.
“He’s the kind of guy everyone loves,” said David Barham, High School Faculty Chair at the Waldorf School. “As a Waldorf school, we’re about educating the whole human being, and it was clear that that was a priority for both Stuart and his parents. I think they saw the value in that.”
Barham also claimed that while gaining early success during his high school career, Whittier would share none of it with his peers and teachers on account of his own humility. Many times, a faculty member or fellow student would be the one to spread the news.
What can be the downfall of such young successes who don’t suffer from possibly self-sabotaging arrogance is that the success simply overwhelms them, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue for Whittier. When asked if he considered his age an obstacle he said, “I don’t think much of it. If anything, I feel it gives me an advantage because I feel like I have nothing to lose and that way I don’t overthink anything.”
His coach, Phelan, thinks similarly.
“It would be a lot for any 19 year old, but if anyone can do it, it’s Stu. He’s got luck on his side. He’s young blood, you know? He’s got plenty of time to progress,” said Phelan.
What has helped to ground the young skier is perhaps his dedication to the sport. Phelan, who has been working with Whittier for several years now, claims that the school is only owed part of the credit for getting Whittier where he is now.
“His time at CVA was important, but as an individual he did a lot of work on his own. He’s committed to the sport, is incredibly mature for his age, and he just wants it so bad, he just does it. You don’t find that in all athletes, maybe 5-10 percent,” said Phelan.
Whittier is currently training in Europe and is already planning for the future.
“The World Cups are only to serve as experience that will carry into the Europa Cup races where I’ll hopefully be able to ski more heats and have more course time,” said Whittier.
Whittier is quick to pay tribute to his roots and the small community from which he’s grown. The Waldorf School, what Barham terms “an intimate little place” of only 260 students, has helped to ground the young success.
“I’m fortunate enough to have people and family around me that support what I’m doing so that within itself is reassuring. I was able to come across ski cross because of the small CVA and Sugarloaf community. I was able to find something that I was passionate about and run with it which also a testament to the small community,” said Whittier.
As the World Cup competitions continue and as Whittier approaches his aspiration of competing in the Europa Cup, he will continue to have the support of his tight-knit Maine community while he breaks ground overseas.