By Peggy Shinn
When Sienna Solomons skis, she feels like she’s flying.
And last year, she flew to the top of the NASTAR podium. She beat 42 other girls and women and, at age 7, became the Overall Nature Valley NASTAR National Champion.
But Sienna didn’t go to 2015 NASTAR Nationals with the goal of winning. She went to Snowmass last March mostly to have fun with her family on a ski vacation.
From Palo Alto, Calif., Sienna began skiing at age 2 and was a Shooting Star in Squaw Valley’s alpine program by age 4. Now a third grader who likes to read and play the violin, Sienna and her family make the 3.5-hour drive every winter weekend to the Olympic Valley from Palo Alto, where her mom, Nina Blackwell — a former press secretary to Hillary Clinton when she was a New York Senator — is the executive director of the Firelight Foundation and her father, Mark Solomons, works for eBay. Her younger brother Jake, age 5, is also a budding ski racer.
The family has traveled to NASTAR Nationals — as Team BlackSol — for the past two years and plans to attend the 2016 nationals in Steamboat in March.
So why travel to NASTAR Nationals in Colorado when they already enjoy some of the world’s best skiing in California?
“It’s absolutely wonderful for us to go skiing together in a different environment and see a different state,” says Blackwell, who grew up skiing in Australia where her father owned a ski lodge. “It’s been really, really fun.”
Blackwell likes how — thanks to age- and ability-based handicaps — everyone has an opportunity to win NASTAR races. With a chance of winning, her children try really hard, but they also have fun.
Last year, Sienna qualified for NASTAR Nationals in the bronze division. But after the first day of competition, she was bumped to silver. She then won the silver division and qualified for the Race of Champions.
In the Race of Champions, Sienna was one of the youngest competitors, but she knew she could win, especially if she listened to her dad’s advice — to keep her arms forward and her shins pressuring the front of her boots.
“I was thinking about my daddy and how he would be proud if I won,” she says.
When she crossed the finish line, her time was divided by her handicap, which gave her an adjusted time of 26.92. Only the third (of 43) racers, she then had to wait on top of the podium to see if another racer with a faster adjusted time could bump her off. But even Jeanette Saylor, in the 55 to 59-year-old category with the lowest handicap, couldn’t unseat Sienna.
“When I went down that course during the Race of Champions, and I went to the top (of the podium), I didn’t think I was going to be there for the rest of the race,” says Sienna.
Back at Squaw Valley this winter, Sienna is skiing with the Mighty Mites, her third year with the alpine program for kids ages 5 to 10.
But she is not looking too far down the ski racing road yet. She admires Squaw Valley skiers Julia Mancuso and Shane McConkey (because she found out that he ski raced before he became a famous big mountain skier). And Sienna pointed out that Wildflour Baking Company in the Squaw Valley Village gives a lifetime cookie pass to anyone who wins an Olympic Gold medal.
“Do you want free cookies?” her mom asks. “Is that your inspiration?”
“No,” says Sienna.
Then what inspires her to race NASTAR?
Without hesitating, she replies, “My family.”
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