We are always impressed by the passion exhibited by NASTAR racers but this year we saw an even greater level of camaraderie among the participants. Aspen/Snowmass and the team from NASTAR did an amazing job coordinating races and activities and the sense teamwork transcended the entire event. The week kicked off with race clinics leading up to the National Championship races under perfect conditions but on Thursday old man winter decided give us a reminder that ski racing is an outdoor sport and that we always need to be prepared to put the race skis aside, grab the powder boards and get giddy in the fresh snow.
Friday morning saw clear skys return and the snowcat crew did an astounding job preparing the race venues. The Spider Sabich Race Arena was a buzz as ten race courses finished in the same location as the sponsor village where racers and guests could sample Nature Valley products, have their skis waxed by Saucer Wax, demo skis from Head, get a custom printed t-shirt or hoody from Fine Designs or a custom made hat from Big Truck. Ted’s “Shred” Goggles were on display and participants could experience the latest technology from Swix, pick up race gear from Fuxi and much more. Lunch was served at the Spider Sabich Picnic Place so everyone was always in close proximity to the action as the majority of the races could be watched from the picnic palace deck.
The post-race activities in the base village got everyone hopping as Matthew Moon warmed up the crowd before we introduced the Pacesetters and gave away skis and other great prizes in the raffle. There was even some discreet planning between Rod Danko and the NASTAR staff to have his fiancée, Kristina Keener, win the ultimate NASTAR grand prize. Kristina was called up on stage and Rod went with her to claim her prize. When Kristina asked what she had won, Rod got down on one knee and thanked her for supporting him and his NASTAR habit and then asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted and he promised to take her someplace warm for their honeymoon. Then, Brett Dennen took the stage and his positive sounds put a grin on everyone’s face and a skip in their step.
The day was brought to a close on a much more somber note as news began to spread about a racer that had an accident earlier in the day. David Schreitmueller was skiing from the Coney Glade chairlift to the race venue for course inspection when he lost a ski, veered off the trail and collided with a tree. He was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident but the trauma associated with the impact took his life. David lived with his father, Dick, in Kensington, Maryland. We are deeply saddened by this incident and our thoughts are with David’s family during this difficult time. There will be a special award presented to the winner of the 40-44 Gold Division next spring at the Nationals to remember and honor David.
Saturday morning saw nearly a foot of dry light snow cover Snowmass but once again Mark Gressett and the Snowmass snowcat crew groomed the venues at night and again in the morning to provide excellent racing conditions. The racing was impressive as young and old battled for National titles in their age, gender and ability groups. After the races Jes Grew rocked the crowd in anticipation of the awards presentation and our Nature Valley NASTAR Pacesetters prepared awards and prizes for all of the winners. The top three in each age group and division were presented with Gold, Silver and Bronze medallions plus prizes and the winners were invited to participate in the Race of Champions on Sunday.
The Race of Champions is the final competition and the handicapped race provides every National Champion with an opportunity to become the overall Nature Valley NASTAR National Champion. The ladies were the first to tackle the longer and steeper course that started on the upper pitch of the Blue Grouse trail. The first five turns are very demanding but seven year old Stella Serlock handled the pitch like seasoned professional to put herself on the top step of the podium. It looked like she was a lock to take the overall win until Annie Hettinger dropped in to steal the victory. The 21-29 year old Gold Division Champion racing out of Cataloochee Ski Area in North Carolina had an excellent run and she held off strong challenges from Welch Village, MN racer Ellie Peine who took second place and Winter Park, CO’s Brianna Trudeau who took third. The competition was exciting as the top ten racers were all within one second of the winning time.
The race for the fastest raw time was also a hotly contested battle as a trip to the US Ski Team’s new speed training facility at Copper Mountain was on the line. Brianna Trudeau, a six time NASTAR National Champion at just 12 years old, has transformed from a hot little racer to one of the fastest racers in the entire field. Brianna had a very fast run but she knew she was up against Abigail Murer who was looking for the hat trick as a win would secure her third Nature Valley NASTAR Championship title and another trip to a U.S. Ski Team training camp. The 14-15 year old Platinum Division Champion from Hidden Valley, MO would not be denied and she crossed the finish line half a second faster than Brianna to take the victory. Eltiena Campbell, the 40-44 Platinum Division Champion from Sun Valley, grabbed the bronze.
The men’s race looked wide open as numerous NASTAR Champions looked like they could steal the win, but it would take a concerted effort from start to finish. Joshua Rosenberg, the 6-7 year old Platinum Division champion, was making turns and creating angles that you don’t often see young kids make and he looked like a favorite to post the fastest handicapped time. Joshua skied the steep upper pitch perfectly but he made a mistake on the lower section of the course and left the door open for the more experienced racers with lower handicaps. Dylan Bontempo, a veteran NASTAR National Championship competitor at 24 years of age, seized the opportunity and skied the best run of his life to grab the top step of the podium. With a handicap of 15 he watched racers with lower handicaps try to eclipse his time and bump him off the podium but racer after racer came up short. The light was flat any many racers started tucking towards the finish before completing the final few turns on the course and some of the top contenders missed gates or fell four gates from the finish. Adam Peine from Welch Village, MN carried a 10.17 handicap into the race and a flash or crash attitude. When he jumped out of the start it looked like the latter might prove to be his fate as he carried a low line into the final four gates. When he got to the gate that was giving many racers trouble it looked like Adam's low line would send him flying out of the course, but he decided to cut off the line and take the gate across his shins. It was an impressive save and he drove to the finish like a man possessed crossing the finish 19 hundredth of a second ahead of Dylan to take the victory and the overall Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships title. Danny Elkins took the bronze medal to round out the podium.
The race for the raw time title was intense as many competitors really wanted the win and the opportunity to train with the U.S. Team at Copper Mountain. Rory Kelly stormed into the Race of Champions with the lowest handicap at 2.28 and he looked like the odds on favorite to take the win. But the racer from Wintergreen Resort, VA got locked up four gates from the finish and slide off the course. Franz Fuchsberger had been skiing fast all winter and the 50-54 platinum divsion champion looked like another solid bet coming into the race but his raw time was only good enough for second place. Adam Peine's excellent run was fast but not fastest enough to take the raw time win. Danny Elkins, the young coach from Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat, skied a smart tactical run to record the fastest raw time and take the Nature Valley NASTAR National title and the trip to Copper Mountain to train with the U.S. Ski Team. Danny basically grew up racing NASTAR and he has competed in every NASTAR National Championship since 2000. Now, at 25 years of age and with 14 NASTAR National Championships under his belt, Danny Elkins is Nature Valley NASTAR’s National Champion.
The ladies combined division saw a small field take to the start but Carol Grant Sullivan seized the opportunity as the Partially Sighted racer recorded the fastest discounted time and the fastest raw time to earn both National Titles. Maria Hamilton recorded the fastest discounted time and the third fastest raw time. NASTAR National Championship veteran and hard charging snowboarder Arden Sonnenberg posted the second fastest raw time and the placed third with her discounted time.
The guys combined division saw Chris Berns take both victories as he recorded the fastest raw time and the fastest discounted time to win both titles. The two track skier is a lower leg amputee and skis with a prosthetic, but he skis so well it is difficult to tell which turn is dominant. Jeffrey Cole, telemark racer form Aspen Highlands, took the silver medal with the second fastest discounted time and Mark Temple, snowboarder from Wachusett, MA, earned the bronze medal. Local Snowmass snowboarder Mark Hogan recorded the second fastest raw time and Mark Temple earned a second bronze medal by recording the third fastest raw time.