In 2016, 13-year-old Nicola Rountree-Williams swept the competition at the NASTAR National Championships in Steamboat Springs, CO, finishing first as the Overall Female Alpine Champion. Yet, this came as no surprise to anyone aside from Rountree, whose humility has served her well over her years as a ski racer.

Nicola grew up on a horse farm in North Carolina and her family would make annual two-week visits to various resorts in Colorado to spend time skiing together. As she was making turns down a run as a child, she caught a glimpse of a NASTAR course and asked her ski instructor to show her what it was all about.

“I thought to myself, that course looks fun! And turns out, it was just as fun as I had imagined it to be,” Rountree explained. She spent the rest of the day (and the next two days) lapping the course, comparing her times as the ski racing bug filled her soul with happiness. “It was during that two-week long vacation that my family and I decided that I should get into ski racing."

It didn’t take long for Nicola to begin dreaming of her ski racing career. Her family signed her up for a ski racing club in Virginia until her skills were honed enough to make the prestigious Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alpine ski team in Colorado. After waiting a year to make the team in Vail and ultimately moving with her entire family to Colorado, Nicola hasn’t stopped pursuing her goals of bettering herself as a ski racer. This year, she qualified for the USSA National Performance Series, which combines the highest level of U16 athletes from across the country to compete in a series of races that determine who will represent the USA at an international race in Europe known as the Seven Nations Cup.

“Nicola has a loyalty to NASTAR because without it, she never would have had the chance to start ski racing,” Nicola’s mother Elizabeth said. “We were a family from North Carolina who went skiing once a year for a family vacation and now we live near Vail where Nicola gets to ski race. That’s not what I would have expected eight years ago when a ski instructor took her on a NASTAR course!”

Today, when her club team has days off, Nicola trains with her private coach who travels from Denver to meet her at Vail. Down days are not in Nicola’s vocabulary. At age 14, she is the youngest member of the Junior Team America (JTA) after qualifying based on her stellar results last season when she and her family traveled around Europe racing for 12 months. JTA, sponsored by Sync Performance, is a team of high-level athletes who were chosen for their significant potential for national and international ski racing success.

“The pursuit [of ski racing] has also given her the opportunity to work unbelievably hard at something and see how it pays off,” said Robert, Nicola’s father. “No matter what Nicola does later in life she will always understand that, when she holds herself to high expectations, her hard work will eventually result in success for her.

For Nicola and her family, NASTAR was where ski racing began. “It was the beginning and now it’s a tradition,” Nicola said. “We have to do it every year and NASTAR helps so many people begin their ski racing careers!”

If there’s a will, there’s a way. Her goal for the next year is to begin training with the talented group of U16 ski racers at Vail. Nicola’s persistence and determination will likely grant her the opportunity to train alongside this group as she advances through the development pipeline.

Without the door that NASTAR opened, Nicola and her family would likely have a very different story to tell. “NASTAR is a gateway to racing,” Nicola said. “There’s no way I would have gotten into racing otherwise. It’s such a random thing for somebody who came from a horse farm in North Carolina.”