|The Man and the Method: John Morton, Morton Trails|
|Written by Aubrey Smith, Fasterskier.com|
John Morton received this year’s EISA Service Award for the work he has done in trail design which has so positively affected many communities and nordic skiers; racers and recreational tourists alike. Many of the EISA college races are run on trails that he has designed or modified, including the new homologated race courses at Trapps Family Lodge in Stowe, VT, and The Jackson Touring Center in New Hampshire.
Morton is a two-time Olympian who grew up in Walpole, New Hampshire competing in slalom, downhill and jumping, as well as cross country. His aptitude for cross country skiing emerged when he attended Middlebury College, where he was EISA champion twice and a runner-up at the NCAA’s. He coached at Dartmouth for 11 years (“I have mixed loyalties!” he admits) before starting Morton Trails.
In the last 18 years he has designed trails not only for private landowners, schools, and resorts, but for major international events such as the World University Games and Biathlon World Cups – and in locations ranging from Alaska and Wisconsin to South Korea and the Scottish Highlands.
One of the many world-class race venues designed by Morton Trails is the site of the upcoming Junior Olympics: the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle, Maine, a venue run by the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC). Here is the story of the how this venue came to be, and Morton’s design philosophy.
“The goal from the beginning was to create a facility that could bid for and host major national and international events.” – John Morton, on the Presque Isle course design.
Striking a Balance
One of the toughest balancing points of trail design – specifically competition centers such as the Nordic Heritage Center - is to meet the needs of a wide range of trail users. Often, sites get funding for trail construction with an elite level competition in mind.
But Morton considers the whole ski community when he begins creating course composition.
“In reality,” Morton says, “most of the use of the facility is going to be local residents or high school kids, or college teams, or recreational skiers, and to me, it’s a terrible waste of resources if a trail is built for a specific event but then it isn’t suitable for any other uses after that.”
“My general philosophy is to try to make the climbs manageable,” continues Morton, “in other words, I’m not afraid to put tough climbs in, because that’s part of the sport, but I’m not into making them crippling.”
There are, Morton concedes, several “relatively” challenging downhills and corners on the Heritage Center courses – an average skier might find them technically demanding, but not dangerous, whereas a talented racer will find them “really exciting and invigorating.”
“They’re fun,” says Morton, “they make the uphills worth it. . .that’s one of the goals. . . to make the descents worth the climb!”
Morton concludes, “The goal is to make a trail that is challenging for the elite racers but still be manageable for everybody else and I think that the Presque Isle site fulfills that goal.”
Though John Morton was the heavy hand behind trail design, the vision of such a nordic center came from Andy Shepard, who partnered with Max Cobb to work on the plan. Shepard, president and chief executive of Maine Winter Sports Center, grew up skiing in Yarmouth, Maine, and studied engineering at the University of Maine. Working at the Freeport L.L. Bean Center for 16 years, Shepard has been a life-long advocate of healthy living, with an emphasis on outdoor sport.
Also growing up on the east coast, Cobb loved the sport of biathlon (he says he was first motivated to try the sport after an inspirational talk by then-Dartmouth coach, John Morton). Cobb has worked with the U.S. Biathlon team since 1989 and is now the Executive Director. Cobb is a well respected and often requested TD and referee for major international biathlon events, including his recent role as manager of biathlon at the Vancouver Olympics.
Shepard brought vision and enthusiasm, and Cobb had international experience and biathlon expertise. John Morton, with his own racing experience, knowledge of the east coast, and design expertise, was just the man they needed to help them find a location and plan an optimal venue.
Shepard and Cobb already had in mind a general area where they wanted to build the center: Aroostook County. The northern most county in Maine, Aroostook first saw its nordic introduction in the 1870’s, when several Swedish families brought their native activity to their new home in America.
Rural Areas = successful Nordic racers
In communicating with competitors and coaches in Scandinavia, Cobb learned that it was becoming harder and harder to find successful athletes who came from larger towns and cities like Stockholm and Oslo. Instead, most of the successful racers came from rural areas – often significantly disadvantaged areas. In these areas the children were hard workers, and without the “popular distractions” of urban areas, the young athletes were willing to fully commit themselves to the sport.
It did not escape the men’s notice that Aroostook County also saw a bountiful and reliable amount of snowfall each year.
Presenting their Mission
|< Prev||Next >|