NASTAR Nationals in Review
03.30.2017 |Megan Ganim
Nothing could hold back the smiles and enthusiasm that spread from racer to racer at the Liberty Mutual NASTAR Nationals in Steamboat Springs, Colo., March 23-26. Families from all over the U.S. gathered to race, reunite with old friends, break records, and celebrate the end of the season surrounded by some of the most passionate ski racers in the country.
It was difficult to ride up the chairlift without winding up next to a NASTAR racer who was more than eager to share their racing experience.
Lou Horwitz is a NASTAR racer who has been to 18 NASTAR Nationals in his lifetime. If that alone isn’t a testament to the strong spirit of tradition that runs in the blood of NASTAR competitors, I am not sure what is. Horwitz finished in 11th place and raced in the Gold Division ages 55-59. “For me, I really like the racing culture,” said Horwitz. “It’s such a fun event and meeting the other racers who are all out here is really what keeps me coming back.”
This sentiment was echoed throughout the community, as there has always been a strong number of returning racers each year. Charlie Sievers and his daughters Lindsey Sievers and Rachel Sievers have driven from their home hill of Mount Kato, Minn., to NASTAR Nationals six years in a row and treat the event like a spring break each year. “The adrenaline [of racing] brings me back each year,” said Charlie Sievers. “It’s awesome being able to basically practice for this event all season in Mankato. We train NASTAR courses on Thursday nights and every other Sunday in order to get as much in and hope to qualify for Nationals by giving it all that we got.”
And “giving it all they got” was an understatement for the majority of the NASTAR Nationals crowd last weekend. There were five courses set across the Steamboat Springs ski hill venue. At the top of each one, racers stomped their skis on the snow and pursed their lips as their nerves ratcheted up waiting to take on the challenge. Loud cheers from family members and friends filled the warm spring air in Steamboat.
Andrea Arms, from Basalt, Colo., finished first for the women’s Platinum Division age 65-69 and has been racing NASTAR since before her children were born back in the mid 1960s. “Nastar is my life,” said Arms. “But it’s also bragging rights at the bar. I’ve been teaching skiing more than 40 years and when I go back to my local bar and show my fellow ski instructors my gold medal, they’re all going to say ‘Oh yea, again? Another year?’’’
Stories like Andrea Arms’ are more common than expected in NASTAR. These athletes truly embrace the heart and soul of ski racing and are beyond thrilled to be able to participate in an athletic endeavor that on many other levels can become too time-consuming and costly. But at NASTAR Nationals, if it was a tough race, or not the result someone was looking for, it was nothing a beer or a hug from a good friend couldn’t cure.
The hill was scattered with racers of all ages from three years old to the eldest of veterans at 98. J.C “Bullet” Dooley raced the NASTAR Nationals last weekend and was so disappointed in himself to have to pull out of the course because it was too icy for him. In his opinion, it takes a village to get him out on skis, but the smile on his face along with the hugs he gave said it was all worth it in the end regardless of his result.
Nancy Simpson, of Wasau, Wisc., had the opportunity to stand on the podium in the Platinum Division ages 55-59. In 2015, Simpson took the record for most NASTAR runs in a single year with 1,365 total. She was determined to have a female claim the record and even took 10 days off of work over Christmas to ski 50 runs each day in the snow or shine.
“Everyone was so supportive of me, they’d even yell from the chairlifts because they knew I was going for the record that year,” Simpson said. “I even raced in a speed suit when it was freezing cold over in the Midwest,” she laughed.
If a NASTAR skier qualifies for Nationals, they often bring five or more family members to support them while they compete. Greg Iovan, who won the Men’s Silver Division ages 55-59, loves the spirit of NASTAR. “Some of the most fun, I would say is, if you made the Nationals and you are finally here, you get to see World Cup skiers pace set your course and they are so cool and just like your next-door neighbor. It is so awesome,” said Iovan.
This year, U.S. Ski Team alumni Casey Puckett, AJ Kitt and Marco Sullivan showed up in full force sporting NASTAR speed suits and pacesetting before every division race. Each of them took more than 15 runs each day on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday making sure to set a fast pace for the Nationals racers.
AJ Kitt, who now resides in Hood River, Ore., brought his wife and three kids to both support him and join in on the racing. “This is the third year that I’ve had my family come to the NASTAR Nationals,” said Kitt. “Throughout all the years of pacesetting and racing it was always about me and now that I’ve got these guys here, it’s fun to see them pursuing their love for the sport.”
Kitt, a veteran amongst the three pacesetters, was laying down some speedy runs with Sullivan and Puckett throughout the weekend with his quick GS turns and seasoned demeanor.
“The positive energy and the stoke to be [at NASTAR Nationals] is very high,” explained Olympian and NASTAR pacesetter Sullivan. “Many traveled across the country to be at the Nationals, and they’re excited to get on these courses on bigger mountains than they’ve ever seen. Pacesetting this week with AJ and Casey is so fun to get back in the gates with those guys. We have our own competitiveness with ourselves.”
For these U.S. Ski Team alumni, NASTAR reminds them why they love the sport so much. “NASTAR is something I believe in,” Puckett said. “The first race I did was at a NASTAR course in Crested Butte, Colo. I love to see the enthusiasm for this recreational racing program. These guys love it and it’s infectious. I love coming to see it.”
Family is at NASTAR’s core and this couldn’t shine more true than it did at NASTAR Nationals. Moms cheered on their kids from the crowd while they held the hand of their sons and daughters and led them up to the stage to receive their awards. The passion runs deep for this crowd and it will for generations to come. Perhaps even some of the kids at Nationals this year will be pacesetters in the next 15 years!