By Dave Brennan
In 1981, MTW was launched, “On Golden Pond” was a hit movie — and Scott Nichols began pacesetting for NASTAR.
Thirty-five years later, he’s still going strong, as the longest-running pacesetter in the history of NASTAR. What keeps Nichols — who’s never been higher than an 8 handicap — in the start gates year after year? Recently, we tracked down the man who keeps on ticking to find out what got him going and what keeps him going season after season.
Scott’s long run in ski racing began in 1973, when his family moved from southern Minnesota to Bloomington. Ten miles from his new home was one of the country’s most iconic ski racing venues — Buck Hill — that has produced numerous U.S. Ski Team and Olympic champions, including Kristina Koznick and Lindsey Vonn. Little did the Nichols family know how this minor shift in geography would set in motion a career for their son in ski racing.
“My dad was a ski patrolman at Afton Alps, so skiing was in the family DNA,” recalls Scott. “I started racing NASTAR at Buck Hill when I was in eighth grade, which was a pretty typical activity for kids in the area — we did it mostly for the bragging rights!”
In 1975, now in high school, Scott made a bigger commitment NASTAR racing and eventually beat the pacesetter at Indianhead Mountain, Mich. Four years later, his life changed once again when he made his own way to Jackson Hole. At Teton Village, he took a job as a ski instructor with none other than 1964 Innsbruck Olympic slalom gold medalist Pepi Stiegler and earned his PSIA certification.
“Pepi was the best free skier I'd ever seen,” says Scott. “He was an inspiration for me to push myself technically. Besides teaching for him, I worked at his race camps. That experience, combined with Pepi’s mandate that all his instructors race NASTAR every Wednesday, made me a better racer and started me down the path as a pacesetter.”
Thanksgiving Day, 1981, and one final turn in the course was Scott’s move to Aspen Highlands. This was the watershed moment marking the start of his long run with NASTAR. There, along with newfound friends, Chip Chilson and Henri Filip, he successfully competed in the NASTAR Pacesetter Trials, ultimately launching his 35-year run — and counting.
In 1982, Scott earned his USSA Level 200 coaches license, which he used to expand his involvement in the Aspen-area adult ski racing programs. In 1985, Bob Beattie, whose NASTAR concept was now flourishing, established a purse for the National Pacesetter Trials held that year on Gold Peak. Scott once again was among the top finishers and, as a result, became the pacesetter for all three NASTAR venues — Aspen Mountain (which ranks No. 3 in the U.S. for race starts), Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
The head-to-head format of NASTAR contributes to racers being very passionate. In turn, this has led to numerous monikers. Scott affectionately refers to his flock as NASTARfarians.
Gordon Hammersla was a poignant example of the camaraderie between Scott and his NASTARfarians. Two years ago, while making his annual trek to Aspen Highlands from his home in Baltimore, Gordon confided in Scott that he had entered hospice care. On hearing this, Scott invited Gordon for an elk dinner at his cabin in Marble, Colo. As they shared the meal, Gordon asked Scott for a final favor: to spread his ashes along the NASTAR course and the Steeplechase run at Highlands.
In 1987, Scott was named a race manager, and with that his responsibilities expanded beyond the three NASTAR venues to include all racing at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
“NASTAR and the people involved mean everything to me,” says Scott. “This game-changing concept by Bob Beattie opened up ski racing to a diverse range of people. I’m grateful and humbled for the opportunities I’ve had to meet an extraordinary group of people from across the U.S. and around the world.”