Albinism Won’t Stop This Alpine Skier

Albinism Won’t Stop This Alpine Skier

Krystin Paine Contributing Writer 

    Mackenzie MacDonald, a UMF junior and alpine skier, has been invited to train in Breckenridge, Colorado to ski for the second year in a row and hasn’t let her skiing skills be hindered by a visual impairment caused by ocular albinism.

    Ocular albinism is a genetic condition that affects a person’s pigmentation in the hair, skin, and eyes. This reduction of pigmentation in the iris, the colored part of the eye, is what causes MacDonald’s impaired vision. It is a recessive gene disorder, meaning that both parents have to be carriers of this gene. This gives the child a 25% chance of inheriting the condition.

    “This is how all recessive gene disorders work,” MacDonald said. “My vision is kind of hard to explain, so I have no depth perception at all and very little peripheral vision.”

    MacDonald explained that her visual acuity is 20/200 with glasses. This means that whatever a person with perfect vision can see at 200 feet, she can only see at 20 feet with glasses. “I honestly have no idea what it is without them, just that it’s worse. This also is the exact acuity that you have to have to be considered legally blind,” MacDonald said. “It also means that I will never be able to drive. The law in the state of Maine is that you must have 20/70 vision at the very least.”

    Last December, MacDonald left the Maine mountains to ski at the Disabled Sports, USA’s Ski Spectacular in Colorado. “There’s so many people with so many different types of disabilities [and abilities]. It amazes me to hear all their stories and how they got to where they are,” she said.

    Feeling incredibly grateful for the experiences, she loved connecting with all of the people she met there. She loved that despite the different situations, all of the people worked hard to be there and were working even harder to succeed while being there. “It’s just amazing and I hope everyone can experience something like that. It just opens your mind up to so much,” MacDonald said. She even met people who had the same dream as her, to become a Paralympic alpine skier.

    Jenny Hancock, also a UMF junior and skier, agreed with MacDonald and said that MacDonald’s future was the paralympics. “I see a bright future ahead for Mack. I want her to believe in herself as much as I believe in her, have her dream big, and not look behind her.” Hancock said. 

Mackenzie MacDonald skiing during a race. (Photo courtesy of Disabled Sports USA)

    MacDonald and Hancock met spring semester of their freshman year when they were both on ski team and were ski coaches together for snowcats. “Who knew our short little car rides would turn into us becoming best friends,” said Hancock. “Skiing with Mackenzie is truly inspiring to me. No words describe Mack and her skiing. It brings tears to my eyes talking about it. It instantly puts a smile on my face.”

    Hancock was ecstatic when talking about MacDonald’s invite to go back again this year to train because it was a great experience for her last year. “Mackenzie got a taste of different conditions we don’t always see here and it will be awesome for her to learn more about herself in the progression,” Hancock said. “I could feel her passion, and happiness this sport brought her. Mack has improved a ton since I have known her. I am very proud of her frustrations that she has overcome!”

    While in Colorado, MacDonald had a guide with her, Brie Marquis. Marquis’ job is to either ski in front of MacDonald and have MacDonald follow her, or behind MacDonald, to help watch and improve her skills. “For me, my guide skis in front of me and I follow them at a very close distance,” MacDonald said. “My guide tells me if there’s going to be a pitch change, when the hill gets steeper, when the snow consistency changes, soft to hard or fluffy snow or vise versa, and bumps and stuff like that.”

    “We talk through a headset radio setup. So I can hear her and she can hear me. This is something new we have implemented for me in the last couple years. It’s different for every visually impaired athlete according to their abilities,” said MacDonald. “It’s a really cool thing to watch how each athlete uses their guide because everyone has different needs.”

    “I believe that having Brie step up and wanting to be Mack’s guide is awesome,” Hancock said, “I think [Makenzie] has grown and is still growing, but having consistency with Brie being her guide is wonderful.”

    Marquis, not only MacDonald’s guide but a UMF skier as well, agreed with Hancock when talking about being MacDonald’s guide and going to the event with her. “It was an incredible experience. For this event, guiding Mack meant meeting all new people and being immersed into the Paralympic community was so cool,” Marquis said. 

    To Marquis, being a guide for the first time was not easy. “Last collegiate season, Mack and I did not have a microphone on our helmets so that made it a bit harder,” Marquis said. “I can only be about a gate length ahead of Mack in order for her to see me so not having a microphone meant I have to turn around just about every gate.”

     “At Paralympic nationals, we did have a microphone which made the task a lot easier. However, I still had to turn around a lot. It really just meant that Mack could give me feedback in the course versus at the bottom.” Marquis said. “The toughest part in my mind is that I cannot fall. My top priority is getting Mack down the hill so me falling makes that impossible. It’s a tough job to be honest, but oh my goodness, it is so worth it.”

    Marquis and MacDonald both skied on the Alpine Ski team at UMF. “Freshman year, Mack was quiet around our team and didn’t have a consistent guide,” Marquis said. “Last year she opened up, socially as well as in her skiing ability. At our college races, she was beating a handful of able bodied skiers and her confidence in herself grew so much. She made huge strides in her skiing and I cannot wait to see her keep improving.”

     MacDonald will be leaving to train in Colorado from Dec. 9 to 15. Marquis will be joining her to be her guide once again.

Alpine Ski Teams Set Mountainous Expectations for Winter Season

Alpine Ski Teams Set Mountainous Expectations for Winter Season

By Devin Lachappelle – Contributing Writer

   Although the Farmington area has yet to see significant snowfall, members of UMF’s Alpine Ski teams are already hitting the slopes and training hard as they look to get a strong start to the season. They hope to eventually make a run for the United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championships in March.

   Jed Stevens, a Junior and a captain of the men’s team, is cautiously optimistic about this season. Stevens expects that both the men’s and women’s teams will put up strong performances despite a lack of upperclassmen racers.

Ben Higgins takes a practice run down Chicken Pitch, a steep section of trail at Sugarloaf Mountain
Credit: Ben Higgins

   “We have a very young ski team this year,” Stevens said. “Luckily for me, the majority of our team has an ample amount of experience in racing. My expectations for the team this year are high, but skiing is a tough sport, so we take on our season by going one race at a time.”

       Jess Freeborn, a sophomore and a captain of the women’s team, agreed with Stevens, and noted that she appreciated her teammates’ energy. “The women’s Alpine team is a young but vibrant team,” she said. “The team [is] extremely excited and eager to hit the snow.”

   Although her teammates have shown incredible enthusiasm about this alpine ski season, Freeborn said that she still likes to keep a careful eye on her fellow racers to make sure no one gets overwhelmed.

   “I help make sure everyone’s attending practices and in a good place emotionally and academically,” she said. “I have been called the team mom more than a few times!“

    Ben Higgins, a recent transfer student from Currie College and a new addition to the men’s Alpine Ski team, was a bit more outspoken about his goals than Stevens and Freeborn were. “We’ve had nationals on our Google Calendar all year,” Higgins said, in reference to the USCSA Championships, which are held in New York at the end of the ski season.

   While the Alpine Ski teams don’t have official home racing venues, Stevens mentioned that he and his teammates train often at Titcomb Mountain, a small ski mountain located two miles from the school’s campus.

   “UMF and its snow sports teams have an excellent relationship with Titcomb Mountain,” Stevens said. “In my own personal opinion, Titcomb has one of the best trails for slalom races in the state of Maine.”

   Stevens also noted that Titcomb is particularly accommodating to UMF students, both for those looking to watch races and those looking to ski. “[Titcomb is] only ten minutes away and provides free skiing to all UMF students, [so] if you want to come watch us compete, this is the venue to do it,” he said.

   Stevens and Higgins mentioned that although it isn’t as close to campus as is Titcomb, Sugarloaf Mountain is a fantastic place to practice, given its substantial size and the difficulty of its trails.

    “Sugarloaf provides us with an opportunity to train on a large mountain with challenging terrain, which gives us a major edge in races held on difficult slopes,” Stevens said. “Once the season gets into full swing, this is our preferred training space for giant slalom [races].”

   Higgins agreed and said, “I would consider Sugarloaf to be part of our extended community here at UMF.” With laughter in his voice, Higgins continued, “It’s not too far away; if you give it a little bit of a lead foot you can get there pretty quickly.”

   The full schedules for the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams can be found at and, respectively.

   Any UMF student interested in getting a free season pass to Titcomb Mountain should visit

Senate Approves 15k To Send Athletes To Nationals

By Nick Bray & Andrew Devine, Staff Reporter; Contributing Writer

The UMF Student Senate recently approved a $14,700 amended proposal from the snowsports team to send up to seven athletes to the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championship at Mount Bachelor in Oregon this March. This amount is down from the original proposal, which was $25,000 and would have funded up to 10 athletes and their three coaches.     

This proposal passed unanimously through the senate Financial Affairs Committee, where the proposal was then sent to the General Assembly for consideration. During a 90 minute discussion of the proposal, senators expressed their concern with the high price tag for the nationals request. Members of the snowsports team were in the audience to explain why they believe the proposal should be accepted.

The snowsports program consists of Alpine and Nordic ski teams, as well as a combined Freeski and Snowboard team. The team is considered a club sport, with varsity status. All three teams expect to send athletes to the national competition, which is why all three coaches need to travel to Oregon with the athletes. If athletes qualify, this would be the third time UMF has participated in USCSA nationals.

Even following the cost reduction the proposal is one of the largest in the history of the student senate. According to Kirsten Swan, who has been the advisor of student senate for 10 years, she cannot recall ever seeing any single request exceed $15,000. The snowsports proposal includes the cost of airfare, lodging and registration for each athlete who attends nationals. The cost per athlete is $2,100 and the cost per coach is $1,500. The club has fundraised to pay for athlete’s meals.

In addition to the overall cost of the proposal, senate was concerned about having enough funds to cover other expenses for the remainder of the semester. Due to overestimating enrollment, which determines funds raised by the student activity fee, the senate is left with a shortfall. This shortfall was addressed by transferring funds from the senate reserves into the operating account. These funds will be used to pay for the Leadership Banquet, Spring Fling, and proposals from other clubs.

After the tabling discussion of the proposal, senators met with administrators in the athletics to come up with a compromise in order to reduce the total proposal amount. Director of Athletics Julie Davis discovered $4,500 remaining from a grant which the university secured to jump start the ski team, which was reestablished about 10 years ago. “Part of accepting that grant was to find ways for the university to sustain support for the program,” Davis said. “Between the athletics department and the student senate, we have found ways to accomplish this.”

The $4,500 could be used to fund the coaches, with a balance of $21,000 to be funded by the senate. In a compromise, Senator Allison Bernier made a motion to amend the proposal from 10 athletes to seven athletes. This would be at a total cost of $14,700 to the senate. This amended proposal was unanimously approved.

Club Sports Commissioner Joseph Brichetto recognizes the given budget situation, but also doesn’t want to discredit the team’s accomplishments. “They have an opportunity they should take advantage of as they work hard,” Brichetto said. “At some point, you can’t please everybody. I think the resolution we came to will leave everybody slightly displeased but it was definitely the best call.”

After the decision to amend the proposal was finalized at the Senate meeting, Ski Team player Quinn Fogarty responded, “I think if we do qualify for nationals, we have the commitment to the school, the school should commit to us athletes as well.”

Senator Matt Lulofs, also an athlete on the Ski Team remarked, “I’m happy that the Student Senate decided to support us on this because obviously they could have given us no funds for it, we at least got something.”