By Jake Bright
There’s nowhere in the world like NASTAR National Championships for amateur alpine racers to compare themselves with World Cup superstars. And here at Steamboat, I witnessed this phenomenon firsthand when I joined a race clinic on Wednesday, March 23, led by U.S. Ski Team Member Travis Ganong.
Ganong, a Sochi Olympian and FIS World Championships medalist, is one of several current and former pro athletes who set the pace in NASTAR’s courses and lend expert tips to citizen racers from around the country at regional and national events.
As I lined up for a training run in Steamboat’s dual GS starthouse, Ganong pulled in alongside me.
“Want to race?” he said as several dozen NASTAR competitors watched behind us.
“Sure,” I said, and then did my best to keep him in sight as we flew down the mountain.
There are few, if any, alpine racing venues where a guy like me gets to run head-to-head GS with someone who’s raced Austria’s famed Hahnenkamm. That’s one of the many niceties at NASTAR Nationals. World-class experts such as Ganong make themselves available all week long.
Ganong, who came to Steamboat fresh off his final World Cup races in Switzerland, is participating in NASTAR Nationals for the first time. “With the U.S. Ski Team’s greater involvement in NASTAR, we’re incorporating more athletes into the program,” he said. “It’s really cool to have that connection.”
Ganong’s first impressions of the program? “It’s so great to see kids, adults, and this broad base of the general public from all over the country,” he said, “who are really fired up about ski racing.”
One of those racers skiing with Ganong on March 23 was Dr. Alan Walker, the president of Sierra Nevada College and pictured here with the U.S. Ski Team star. Serendipitously, that’s the same school where Ganong recently enrolled to study ski resort management — something he’ll look to do when he finishes his alpine racing career.
Walker got into NASTAR racing after a recreational ski background and made the podium last year in his second Nationals competition. He’ll make another attempt at Steamboat, racing in the 50 to 59 Silver Division. Walker said he likes NASTAR’s handicap system and “the chance to ski with world class athletes like Travis.” Walker also said he agrees with Ganong’s assessment of the enthusiasm at Nationals.
“Travis is right,” he said. “People are passionate about NASTAR — they love it, take it seriously, and I am one of them.”
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