By Hank McKee
I’ve always liked NASTAR.
The whole idea that if I could ever actually finish a racecourse, I could compare my time to the best in the nation, or the guy over there, just strikes me as an exceptionally cool idea.
That should be no surprise.
The idea came from celebrated ski writer John Fry, and early implementation was overseen by ski racing’s resident genius, Bob Beattie.
Now, for the first time, NASTAR has just joined forces with the U.S. Ski Team and the national ski association (USSA) which is good news and foretells we may hear a little more about the world’s largest ski racing participation program.
NASTAR expects more than 1,000 participants at finals in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in March 2016. Yes, the Birkebeiner has a larger entry field, but in alpine competition, a grand is actually a bit larger than can readily be accommodated.
Still, it doesn’t hurt the reach of the ski team’s development program, does it?
In sport, bigger is not always better. Heck, Andre the Giant got beat on a regular basis. Longevity, however, speaks well for a sports organization.
NASTAR has been generating interest in ski racing with a hands-on approach for nearly 50 years, about the same length of time as the World Cup of the sport. That translates as success.
At any of 110 U.S. ski areas this season, Percy Public can sign up, get to the start gate and race against a friend, or relative, or hated enemy, skiing at an entirely different ski area, in different conditions in a different part of the country. There are some obvious difficulties with pulling that off. The effort, however, seems to be worth it.
The idea appeals to a wide audience, one loaded up with folks who have tried their hand at the sport wholeheartedly in previous lifetimes.
A glance at the National Pacesetting trials, which took place at the Ski Team’s training center at Copper Mountain, Colo., in November would indicate old racers don’t fade away — they lurk, waiting for the next opportunity to out-ski someone.
Those hard-earned skills don’t evaporate. Paul Casey Puckett retired from the ski team in 2002 but was the fastest of the skiers who will become GS pacesetters. Guess he hasn’t lost much in 14 seasons. Ski Team racer Tim Kelley led the slalom pacesetting.
Former team members Daron Rahlves, Jake Fiala, Troy Watts, Tommy Moe, AJ Kitt, Cary Adgate, and Heidi Voelker were among skiers doing their thing at the event, and subsequently, our thing across the nation this season.
Come on, how cool is that?
In our book, that’s elite competition. And, just to be certain fast was fast, there were current U.S. Ski Team racers taking runs as well — Tim Jitloff, Stephanie Lebby, Marco Sullivan, Ted Ligety, Tim Kelley and Michael Ankeny drew our attention on the result sheet.
In 1968, Fry took his inspiration from the French Chamois system, where that nation’s top instructors were brought together and raced to determine racing proficiency. The French instructors were assigned a rating based on the percentage of time behind the fastest skier they were. The instructors would return home and race against the locals, who could win a Chamois pin, signifying the pin-earner was the equal of pin winners at any other French resort.
Fry opened the playing field beyond top end instructors and racers by introducing open-gate GS courses on intermediate slopes to attract thousands of everyday skiers curious to measure their skiing ability. NASTAR was born.
Jimmie Heuga was the first national pacesetter, and the first Pacesetting Trials occurred at Waterville Valley, N.H. Casey Puckett and Tim Kelley carry on the tradition. That’s just fun in a historic kind of way.
Now, if I could just manage to finish.