By Jake Bright
Competition kicked off Thursday, March 24, at NASTAR Nationals. On multiple Steamboat courses, hundreds of participants from ages 3 to 89 entered start gates for Day 1 of the largest recreational ski and board race program in the world.
From morning to afternoon, adults, kids, families gathered at Gondola Square, some going up the lift to their racecourses, others coming down, already sharing their competitive experience and goals for Day 2.
On my Platinum division racecourse for men ages 21 to 59, former U.S. Ski Team member Casey Puckett set the opening pace before we charged down one-by-one, trying to get the lowest handicap compared to his time. That included Bill Nealon, who’s here at his first NASTAR Nationals from Mount Southington, Conn.; and Kevin Wickless (who qualified from Wachusett Mountain in Massachusetts) who started his fifth championships.
The Blount family from Boston (and qualifiers from Okemo Mountain) found themselves on multiple racecourses throughout the day. Mom (Jennifer) and Dad (James) competed in the 40 to 44 Gold alpine division in the morning. By afternoon, they were watching as daughters Chloe (5) and Cami (7) race in their Platinum division. Both sisters shared NASTAR goals “to go fast” and “get medals,” they told me, after sharing a group photo with Steamboat Ambassador Billy Kidd.
Mom Jen Blount said she likes the family and friends aspect of the Nationals. “Meeting other families from around the country is always fun, and you build friendships from one coast to the other from this one event,” she said. Mom and Dad noted that the Blounts will also compete Saturday in the NASTAR Nationals family race and friends race. The chosen name for the girls’ friends squad? “Team Okemotion!” Chloe said.
Brothers Calcy and Winston Tang (age 11 and 9) came out to NASTAR Nationals from Park City, Utah, with their dad, Thomas. (The trio is pictured above.) The initial motivator for competing? “We got invited,” said Thomas. The brothers are on the Park City Mountain Resort Farm Team, a junior program that runs the local NASTAR course frequently.
The boys shared friendly brotherly rivalry in their first Nationals gold divisions. When asked about his goals for the Championships, Calcy smiled. “Trying to beat my brother,” he said.
“Trying to beat my brother,” Winston shot back about his own goals. Dad Thomas noted the uniqueness of NASTAR in allowing the boys to race in different divisions but still compare their handicaps.
Ski racing wasn’t the only action on Day 1 of Nationals competition. Over on Steamboat’s Lower Bashor, there was the snowboarder and snowbike division. I caught up with Braxton Morgan from Knoxville, Tennessee between his first and second run in the 10 to 11 boarder division of his first NASTAR Nationals. “I wanted to see how I would rank up against other competitors,” he said of his motivation for coming out to Steamboat. His goals? “To have fun and do my best,” he said.
On the same course, I ran into father-and-son snowboard team Joe and Jacob Landa from Virginia. We’d met at Nationals in 2013 when Jacob was 14. Now 17, Jacob was enjoying his last NASTAR championships before heading to college next year. He actually talked his father, Joe, into switching from skis to snowboarding nine years ago. It stuck. Counting Steamboat, the two are on their ninth NASTAR Nationals snowboard competition together. “I actually listed my Nationals participation on my college applications,” Jacob told me.
Day 1 of competition concluded at NASTAR’s stage where Director Bill Madsen introduced celebrity pacesetters, such as past and current U.S. Ski Team members A.J. Kitt, Travis Ganong and Casey Puckett. Making a surprise appearance was two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety. “Mr. GS” himself explained how he raced NASTAR as a kid, and gave his best tips to racers on how to go faster on Day 2. The crowd of amateur alpine racers appeared more than enthusiastic to receive advice from one of the best GS skiers in history.
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