WOW, WHAT AN EVENT!
With clear blue skies, cold nights and warm days the buzz in the crowd was that the 2012 Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships at Winter Park was the best event yet. The two showcase race venues at the base area provided great racing action and the four race venues higher on the mountain were well suited to each age and divisional group. The addition of the Family Challenge and the Pro-Am, plus the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships created 10 day event that was impressive.
The Championships started with Winter Park’s pros offering race clinics. Participants where provided with an opportunity to practice on the race venues where they would be competing and it clearly paid dividend as race clinic participants racked up numerous podium appearances. The Soul Rebels took to the stage Thursday afternoon for the Opening Ceremony and the New Orleans funk provided racers with chance to loosen up with a few Nature Valley Smores before the competition began.
Friday morning dawned clear and blue with perfect racing conditions and the adults, 21 years and older took to the gates first. Racers were on point and ready to test their skills against participants from 44 states, three countries and 93 NASTAR resorts. Contestants from three years-old to 93 years young were divided into four divisions and assigned to one of the twelve courses. After the first day of racing 14 participants were bumped up a division and they were presented with the most improved awards at the ceremony Friday afternoon. Marc Broussard kept the soulful New Orleans vibe rocking on the main stage and a participant raffle saw racers take home skis from Head, Atomic, Stockli and Fischer in addition to numerous other products.
Day two of the competition began Saturday morning with the junior racers, 20 years and younger taking to the courses first. Most ski races are two run events where a combined time is used to determine the winners. At the NASTAR National Championships competitors are given two opportunities to record their best run each day and their best handicap from day 1 & day 2 are combined to determine the final result. A handicap is used to score each racer rather than a time so that competitors can be compared regardless of their race venue. Approximately 2,200 starts were recorded each day before the final results could be tabulated. The Green River Vibe band warmed up the crowd as participants packed the West Portal station at the end of the day to see which racers made the podium. The Resort Team awards were presented first and congratulations went out to Vail for pulling off the win over a very strong team from Buck Hill, MN. The energy was electric as Teg Ligety, Picabo Street, Steve Nyman, AJ Kitt, Heidi Voelker, Doug Lewis & Jake Fiala presented awards to the champions.
Each Nature Valley NASTAR National Champion was given a first place medallion, a gift and an invitation to compete in the Race of Champions on Sunday. The Race of Champions is a one run winner take all format that allows all age groups to compete on a level playing field with their winning handicap. By simply dividing each racers time by their handicap a discounted time can be used to determine the winners. The combined divisions (snowboarders, telemarkers & physically challenged racers) were the first to compete. A separate course was used for the combined divisions this year so that they could race around snowboard/skier cross gate panels. The ladies race saw 15 year-old snowboarder Amber Hart take first place followed by Chelsi Igel and Emily Mires. Seventeen year-old snowboarder Katie Crawley recorded the fastest raw time. The men lined up for the combined race next and 74 year-old telemarker, Ray Heid brought home his fourth consecutive Race of Champions Title, with snowboarders Brain Spink and Calvin Hood in second and third places. Telemarker, Jeffrey Cole posted the fastest raw time followed by Brian Spink and Scott Maynard.
The ladies lined up next for their race and the podium changed regularly as faster and faster discounted times were recorded. Twelve year-old Rylie Bindas charge down the hill four-hundredths of a second faster than ten year-old Ainsley Proffit and she was looking comfortable on top of the podium until Abigail Murer jumped out of the start. Abigail recorded the fastest raw time during the 2011 Race of Champions and she was anxious to repeat as the reward for winning is a trip to a U.S. Ski Team training camp in South America. When Abigail slid to a stop in the finish area her discounted time was two hundredths of a second faster than Rylie and she jumped on top of the podium to collect her trophy. In addition, Abigail recorded the fastest raw time to fulfill her goal of repeating, and winning another trip with the U.S. Ski Team. This was the first time that anyone has won the fastest discounted time and the fastest raw time. The second fastest raw time went to Sarah Dockery and third place went to Brianna Berg.
The alpine men was the last race of the day and our celebrity pacesetters raced first in their own competition to determine who would be the Nature Valley NASTAR National Pacesetter for the 2012-13 season. Ted Legity showed why he has been the best GS racer in the World for the past four years as many people had to pick their jaw up off the snow after watching his run. Ted was amazing, and as a result it is fair to say that we can all expect our handicaps to be slightly higher next year.
The men’s race was another hotly contested battle as again the podium changed frequently. When the snow finally settled Marc Stojda stood on top of the podium with Carter Flack in second and Ned Friedman in third. The race for the fastest raw time looked like it would be a formality as Charles Christianson entered the race with a 0.38 handicap after scorching the competition during the qualifying races, but an awkward turn on the third gate ended his race and his season early giving Nick Stenicka the win. The twenty year-old from Fraser, CO will travel to South America to train with the U.S. Ski Team this summer and he is looking forward to it. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to train with some of the best racers in the world and hopefully it will help me when I compete for a division one school next winter” said Nick. Twelve year-old Bridger Gile, who earned his fifth NASTAR National Championship title, took second place and 55 year-old Mark Cater of Minnesota held on for third.