My skiing brothers and I often joke among ourselves during early Sunday turns that, while we might be missing Mass, we’re well aware of how fortunate we are. We were raised by devout Catholics, but none of us has followed the “letter of the law” of the church. Still, despite our somewhat agnostic approach to Christianity, we all embrace the basic beliefs of our faith. Mornings on a mountain top are always a wonderful reminder of how much we have to be thankful for. “Everyone worships in their own way” is a favorite expression we share.
Samuel “Sam” Morse takes that concept to an entirely different level, actively combining his love of the sport and his commitment to his faith. A native of Carrabassett Valley, Maine, a lifelong “Sugarloafer” and member of the U.S. Ski Team, the 22-year-old Morse is the son of a pair of ministers, Pam and Earle Morse.
“Our family runs the ski resort ministry at Sugarloaf,” said Morse. “We are American Baptist but operate on a pretty non-traditional format, given our placement at a ski resort.”
The Sugarloaf Area Christian Ministry, or SACM, said Morse, “meets the outdoor enthusiast where they are at.”
“Being involved in SACM grounded me as a person by giving me a support system and a bigger picture view of the world, and what’s important,” said Morse. “This has been valuable in navigating through the expectations, successes and failures of a professional sports career.”
The ministry offers skiing devotionals every Sunday morning during the winter, and recently built an expansive outdoor amphitheater (which Morse helped with) at the top of the mountain.
“Downhill Worship consists of taking a ski run broken into four devotional stops where scripture is discussed, a quick lesson is given, experiences are shared, and prayers are prayed,” he said.
The outdoor amphitheater at the top of the Super Quad chair on Sugarloaf Mountain, known as the AMP, has a large platform overlooking the Bigelow Range, big enough for a full wedding party or band. The best part, said Morse, is what you don’t see.
“The AMP has a state-of-the art sound system embedded in the trees around you, all connected with wireless mics,” said Morse. “This makes for a one-of-a-kind experience to worship in the midst of God’s creation. I was able to help my dad and members of the church construct the AMP, and whenever I’m home during the summer I take advantage of the incredible experience.
“What better way to experience God than in the midst of his creation rather than a wooden structure constructed by man?” he said.
Skiing, and Sugarloaf, always has played a big role in Morse’s life (as well as his brother, Ben), starting with his first turns before his second birthday.
“It was the best place to grow up, with such a tight-knit community and epic mountain to challenge yourself,” he said. “You feel pretty isolated up at Sugarloaf, about an hour from a large town, but it doesn’t bother me one bit.
“Growing up in the western mountains of Maine on the slopes of Sugar-loaf gave me the best kind of playground a kid could ever dream of,” said Morse. “My parents carved out a living in this mountain town by pastoring the local church and operating an interior design company. When you grow up in a ski town, skiing is just what you do. Having the opportunity to learn to ski and live in an area locked in winter six months of the year was an incredible gift.”
The choice of the word “gift” speaks not only to the appreciation that Morse has for his family, but also for his chosen sport. Though he competes at the highest levels, skiing doesn’t need to be that exclusive, said Morse.
“Skiing is the best family sport,” he said. “Whenever I come home, we go for a family ski. My dad always taught me that we are skiers before we are ski racers, and we will be skiers after we are ski racers — meaning it’s a lifelong sport that extends far past the competitive phase, and can be an incredible bonding experience to have with your kids.”
Morse’s family and faith also have helped provide a solid spine for his ski racing career. A graduate of the famed Carrabassett Valley Academy, Morse is now a five-year member of the U.S. Ski Team, specializing in super-G and downhill.
“CVA was pivotal in providing the training volume I needed to mature my skills on skis while still providing a killer high school education,” said Morse. “I qualified for the U.S. Ski Team directly out of high school, but do attend Dartmouth College in the off-season.
“At CVA, two coaches — Doug Williams and Chip Cochrane — gave me the guidance and support to make it to the national team,” he said. “For me it was the power of belief that I felt from them — they believed I could do it, and that gave me strength.”
That “power of belief” extends to Morse’s faith, which helps him deal with life in general, and specifically handle the ups and downs of the ultra-competitive arena of World Cup ski racing.
“Believing in something bigger than yourself makes all your failures and troubles fade away,” he said. “My faith has taught me how to act and carry myself in this crazy world. We all fall short, and it is only by God’s grace that we are able to get back up and keep going. Seeing the larger picture of what God is concerned with takes pressure off a results-oriented sport.”
Morse’s faith, he said, has helped him maintain perspective.
“God doesn’t care if I win or not,” he said. “He wants us to give it our all and leave nothing on the table. I mentioned earlier how seeing God’s larger objectives of following his two great commandments eases the pressure off my skiing.”
Asked if he feels he has “a calling,” Morse said: “For now I feel my calling is to use the platform of a professional sports career to make the world a better place. I see this happening through sharing my testimony and trying to live out as God intended us to exist.”
“Man plans and God laughs, so I’m trying not to plan away my future too much yet,” he said. “I hope the future holds a long successful career with an engaging audience who is committed to helping join me in our pursuit of peace in ourselves and in the world.”
Those are admittedly lofty goals, especially compared to early Sunday morning musings of me and my brothers. But it speaks to Morse’s comfort level with himself, his faith and the world around him.
“Nobody knows all the answers, but you’ve got to believe in something,” said Morse. “A motto I live by is, ‘Never chase the silver bullet but rather the silver buckshot.’ No one thing will ever make you the greatest, but it is the sum of the parts that make the masterpiece. This applies to sport and faith.
“I feel free to compete when I know that I could walk away from skiing tomorrow and be OK,” he said. “Skiing is what I do, but it is not who I am.”