It's hard to beat four-time Olympian AJ Kitt on a NASTAR course, but when recreational racers are given a NASTAR handicap, they have a legitimate shot at beating the World Cup Champion.
It doesn't happen very often, but when the Nature Valley NASTAR Regional Championships were hosted by Welch Village last week in Minnesota, AJ had his hands full holding off the region's top racers. The junior racers took to the course first and they were greeted by cold air and a strong wind, but Midwesterners are hearty and the kids didn't seem to be effected by the negative temperatures.
The adults braved the elements next and there were a few creative adjectives used to describe the chill that old man winter brought to the adult race. The Eskimos may have 100 words for snow but if you live in the Midwest there are hundreds of funny quips to describe the cold, none of which can be mentioned here.
The awards celebration was the next event on the agenda but first we gathered around the TV to watch the World Championships. There is nothing like watching ski racing with ski racers. We are a passionate bunch and patriotism runs deep during World Championship and Olympic events. Ski racing has historically been dominated by Europeans but the times are changing and now Americans can claim alpine racing as our own.
The U.S. Ski Team had an amazing championships with Travis Ganong winning a silver medal in the downhill, Lindsay Vonn winning a bronze medal in the Super G, Mikaela Shiffrin winning her second World Championship gold medal in slalom and Ted Ligety winning his third straight gold medal in GS.
It was very inspiring to watch NASTAR's National Pacesetter win this third World Championship GS Title. Ted continues to set records for GS wins and the "King of GS" is now plainly one of the best GS racers of all time. Only Ingemar Stenmark has won more GS races than Ted, but Shred shows no signs of slowing down.
The temperature rose slightly on Sunday for the Race of Champions, and a quick look at the start list showed that the race was wide open. As the ladies lined up with the highest handicaps racing first it looked like the most experienced racer may have an advantage, but in the end it was 11-year-old Marissa Hagen that took home the overall win ahead of Niki Soderberg and Sandy Powell in third.
The guys lined up for the Race of Champions next and 7-year-old Ryan Burger was the first racer on course with a 56 handicap. Ryan charged down the course and he climbed right onto the top step of the podium. It looked like he might hold on for the win until Billy Wilson finished with a discounted time that put him on top of the podium bumping Ryan to second. The youngsters looked poised to hold their positions until 66 year old Steven Peterson raced down the course and bumped the boys down a step and Steve held on for the win.
Sixteen year-old Sam McKinney continued the strong skiing he showed all weekend to record the fastest raw time, even after he stuck his head through the last gate panel and had his goggles and poles ripped off, but he crossed the finish line to take the win. Sam's result was especially impressive because he only started ski racing seriously a few years ago. He is excited to bring his new found speed to the National Championships to see if he can become the overall NASTAR National Champion. Joe Caturia recorded the second fastest time narrowly edging out his son, Jack Caturia who placed third.
The Team Races followed the RoC and it was clear from the beginning that the Caturia family would be the family team to beat. The Nelson Family gave the Caturia's a run for the money but in the end a team medal point average of 9.963 out of a possible 10 was too strong to overcome. The Molitor family skied a strong race to take third place ahead of the Rumann family team.
There was some trash talking going on before the Friends Team Race as the young guns put together teams to take on the adults. Teams were also put together with new friends that were made during the weekend. There is a different vibe associated with team racing and when racers are scored using NASTAR team points every member of the team has an opportunity to contribute to the team's success. In the end, the kids team called, "Stud Muffins," took the win ahead of the adult team named, "Velocity Raptors". The team of new found friends calling themselves, "Shenanigans," grabbed the bronze medal ahead of the team named, "Insert Team Name Here".
The Nature Valley NASTAR Slalom competition was the final event on the agenda and we celebrated President's Day by racing around stubby gates. At NASTAR we are fans of stubby gates, more specifically SPM Hero Gates, because skiers can make short radius turns and not worry about blocking a full sized gate. The soft rubber gates also eliminate the need for special protective gear so anyone can give NASTAR Slalom a try.
Thanks again to Welch Village for hosting a great event and for bringing NASTAR racers from across the Midwest region together.