By Sophie Nelson
NAME: Kate Webber Punderson
OCCUPATION: Head of School, Carrabassett Valley Academy
A Carrabassett Valley Academy graduate, Kate Webber Punderson returned to her hometown and alma mater 11 years ago. In 2011, she became the head of school. Kate holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and, as a former NCAA Division 1 ski racer, she knows firsthand the value of balancing academics and athletics in an environment that raises aspirations.
What’s your connection to Maine?
I am a fourth-generation Mainer and a third-generation Sugarloafer. Both my parents are from Maine and my grandparents on both sides were involved in Sugarloaf right from the get-go in the 1950s. In fact, my grandfather stood next to Amos Winter as he cut the access road into Sugarloaf. My mother and father, with my brother and sister and me, moved to Carrabassett Valley from Waterville in 1976; my folks ran the Sugarloaf Inn and brought us up to appreciate Maine and all it has to offer. My parents were both founding members of the board of trustees of Carrabassett Valley Academy and I was fortunate enough to attend CVA and graduate in 1989.
What memories from your time as a student at CVA stand out in your memory?
One of the spring sports I did at CVA was whitewater kayaking. We used to put our kayaks in the Carrabassett River right down at the bottom of the valley and paddle to Kingfield. I remember one particular day it was freezing outside. It started spitting snow. But the coach was so enthusiastic, saying, “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this the best?” The coaches and teachers were always making the most of every situation. At the time, all I could think about was how cold I was, but looking back on it I recognize the value of those types of experiences—how to go on in the face of adversity, how to choose your attitude and take personal responsibility. I don’t have memories of the ski races I won. I remember the relationships I made and those moments in time in which they formed. The people at CVA have always been so supportive. It’s a real family atmosphere, which is an extension of the town and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Did you ever consider the possibility that you would become the head of school?
I don’t remember always thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be head of school,” but skiing and education were such a part of my upbringing. It was just such a natural path for me, and then to come back and have this opportunity in my hometown is a great honor.
What has changed and what remains the same about Carrabassett Valley?
So much has changed since I was a kid. My husband and I are raising our son here, and we can’t believe the opportunities he has. There’s now a community library and the Antigravity Complex, an indoor gym facility. There are afterschool programs and a summer camp. It is such an incredible place to raise kids—it was when I was growing up here, but now the opportunities for growth are even more robust. Back in the 80s, we mountain biked on any trail we could find. Now, the Outdoor Center boasts some of the best riding in New England—so the outdoor activities we do are the same, but the area continues to progress. What hasn’t changed are the people. From the friendly lift attendants to the wonderful teachers at the local schools, everyone makes you feel right at home, even if you are “from away.”
How has this place shaped you?
At CVA, we really try to instill a love of the outdoors in the students and use everything in this environment to help us. One quote that I love is, “I am who I am because I have been there.” That’s really true. Skiing, school, and being a part of a caring community is so much a part of my upbringing, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. The ruggedness of the terrain and environment has and continues to shape me—it’s in my DNA.