Ask KC Gandee what separates Shannon Maguire from other young boardercross riders and he's quick to answer.
"Her level of aggressiveness on the course," says Gandee, head Gould Academy snowboarding coach on the phone from Oregon last week. "She's a super nice girl, shakes hands and says good luck. But once she's in the gate and the race starter says attention, her level of focus is through the roof. She's that focused and aggressive."
Maguire's a senior at the Bethel academy and is heading to Lillehammer, Norway next month to compete as one of six snowboarders selected to represent the U.S. in the 2016 Youth Olympic Games, Feb. 12-21.
"I want to do the best that I can," said Maguire, 17. "I would love to win, but I don't know the field. This will be my first international competition in another country. I've only competed in North America and Canada."
Maguire is one of the top juniors on the NorAm circuit. Her discipline is boardercross, the hard-charging free-for-all when four to six racers vie for the hole shot — first out of the start — and barrel down a course loaded with rollers, turns, jumps and more to the finish line.
Its most famous faces include two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott (Sugarloaf's his home mountain) and Olympic, World Cup and X Games icon Lindsey Jacobellis.
Maguire got to see both of them race when Sunday River hosted a World Cup race in February of 2009.
"I was really young," recalled Maguire. "That was one of the coolest things at Sunday River. During our training we all watched it."
Hailing from Scituate, Mass., Maguire's been training at the River since she was eight.
With a need for speed, Maguire's also raced through the gates in slalom and giant slalom but is now concentrating on boardercross.
"With boardercross you have a mix between an intricate course and other competitors," she says. "When you have other people next to you, it makes it way better. It pushes you harder to ride your best whether you are chasing others or being chased. You can't make mistakes."
She's on the fast track. Last season she was the USASA Maine Mountain Champion, bringing home the most points in giant slalom, slalom and snowboardcross. She also placed second in boardercross at the 2015 USASA National Championships held at Copper Mountain, Colo. (as well as fifth in banked slalom, second in giant slalom and fourth in slalom).
She's trained with the U.S. Snowboard Team, running gates with Olympian and X-Gamer Faye Gulini.
Inspecting the course is key in boardercross. Riders can see where the passing lanes are, giving them a chance at the podium. That serves them in planning a strategy.
"Passing is never easy," Maguire says.
Plus, when zooming at breakneck speeds down a firm course, you're also at the mercy of those around you. Crashes happen even if you're doing everything right.
"That's boardercross," she says. "You can fall because of your actions or actions of other people. Your board can hit another board. That's how the race goes."
Getting to the finish line first takes a lot of work. Not only is there racing, but academics, too. According to Gandee, the team does the lion's share of its strength and conditioning during summer and fall. In winter, that's maintained through training and even a weekly team yoga session.
For the Oregon trip, Gould sent 10 student athletes and two coaches. They rise early, eat, load the vehicle, head to a hill to train or compete and then it's back to the rental house for study, cooking and eating dinner, and clean-up with groups taking turns sharing those responsibilities.
As a senior, she's looking ahead to life after Gould, perhaps defer to a college and then take a gap year. She thanks her parents and coaches for encouraging her. She's savvy enough to thank her sponsors Apex and Now during the interview.
Soon enough, she's Norway bound.
"She's done FIS (International Ski Federation) races for three years," says Gandee. "This will be her first time racing against people speaking other languages."
More than 1,100 athletes aged 15-18 are competing in the games held every four years.
"I know it's coming and I'm ready," said Maguire. "But it hasn't really hit me that it's actually happening."
No doubt it'll all come into focus when she's called to attention at the starting gate in Lillehammer.
Auburn's Lost Valley has $25 lift tickets non-holiday Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-9 p.m. and Wednesdays 1-9 p.m. Pay $15 on non-holiday Fridays at Rumford's Black Mountain.
The Eastern Inter-Club Ski League races Saturday on Shawnee Peak's East Slope.