ANDOVER — The little engine that could is the tiny Proctor Ski Area.
It consists of three trails, two surface lifts, snow-making, lights and a cozy lodge. Despite its size, dozens of teams and even U.S. Ski Team members use it as a training venue for alpine, Nordic and ski jumping.
The 141-vertical-meter hill is owned by Proctor Academy and is the only International Ski Federation (FIS) homologated lit course in the country.
"We are the only high school in the country to own and operate a private FIS homologated course," said David Salathe, Alpine Program director.
That means the ski area's trails meet certain requirements for distance, width and elevation changes. The goal is to standardize courses worldwide to ensure that competitions are fair.
Recently the course was extended to meet the qualifications of a men's FIS homologation. Luckily for Proctor, one of their Eastern Ski Coaches, Sandy Eneguess, had the expertise to run the equipment and the expansion.
"We did a lot of contouring and cutting of ledge and land-clearing techniques used on the mountainside to get it where we wanted it to be," Eneguess said.
Next year's plans are to expand the Nordic track.
The private ski area was first cut in the 1960s as a student volunteer community service program and accessed by a rope tow; the T-bar was added in the 1970s.
Significant improvements in recent years include a state-of-the-art environmentally conscious snowmaking system with high-efficiency snow guns which reduced the ski area's carbon footprint by 90 percent. The installation of lights made Proctor Ski Area the only FIS night course in the country.
It is no secret that small mountains have turned out very accomplished skiers.
Buck Hill, which is smaller than Proctor, was home to ski champion Lindsey Vonn and other professional racers. Last Sunday, Proctor Academy's Crowley Gentile was named the top U16 boy's racer. He will compete with four other Proctor athletes at the Eastern Regional Championships at Lake Placid March 5-10.
Proctor Academy also qualified 38 other athletes to high-level championship events.
"It's the small ski areas that are a laboratory environment where you can focus on fundamentals and not be distracted by the public," Salathe said. "It's a pure venue for perfecting your craft and in essence it's not the size that matters, it comes down to the heart and soul of what it is producing,"
He added: "We have one of the most vibrant grassroots Nordic and jumping organizations in the country. We had the best American, Nick Fairall, who competed in Sochi and made it to the medal round from this tiny little grassroots ski area."
Proctor hosted a dozen races this past season, including college, FIS and master's races, U16-U14 qualifiers and open races, interscholastic events. But the biggest party on the hill was the FIS New Year Eve's race under the lights.
Proctor Ski Area is also used by the Andover Outing Club, public schools, and ski academies such as Cardigan Mountain School, plus Dartmouth College, Middlebury, University of New Hampshire, Colby and Brown, among others.
Proctor Academy athletes also train at nearby Ragged Mountain and Mount Sunapee for a variety of terrains.
Proctor Ski Area has a certified ski patrol and two groomers, plus a fully functioning lodge that has a neat deck that uses old skis as a railing.
"We are community-based, so we allow the community to use it when the team is not training with the hope it inspires young people to get involved in alpine and Nordic skiing. We don't sell tickets to use the facility," Salathe said.
Salathe proudly added: "The end result is with Proctor's academics and the ski hill, we are producing some of the best skiers in the area who go on to attend some of the best colleges."
Slopeside runs every Friday during the ski season. Kathleen Humphreys can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.