The National Standard Racing (NASTAR) national championships Platinum division finals were a family affair at Snowmass Ski Area on Saturday.
Siblings appeared on the start lists for the head-to-head, bracketed finals. Families linked up to form intergenerational cheer squads. And NASTAR director Bill Madsen’s mother, Martha, won Pauline’s Cup, an award to the fastest senior female racer of the year in memory of Pauline Arias.
But it’s not just blood relatives who contribute to the familial feeling. For some NASTAR competitors, the grassroots race organization forms bonds of its own.
“That’s what it’s all about — it’s like a big family,” said Kevin Blagys, a 46-year-old snowboarder from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who made it to the second round of finals.
Blagys was among the top contenders in some World Cup races back in the early 2000s with an eye on the 2002 Olympics but soon after fell away from the sport. This is his third year racing with NASTAR and his first national championships with the grassroots public alpine racing organization.
“NASTAR brought me back on the hill,” Blagys said. Competing in NASTAR races has also helped him reconnect with old friends from his earlier racing days, he said.
Madsen calls it “NASTAR nation,” a community of mostly amateur alpine racers joined together by a love of the sport.
“They look out for each other, they help each other out, they’re competitive,” Madsen said.
He’s right, if the finish line vibe on a sunny Saturday morning was any indication. There were plenty of high-fives and pole-taps to go around as duo after duo tucked across twin finish lines in tight race after tight race.
That camaraderie applied across age groups and disciplines: skiers dueled snowbikers and snowboarders. Many finished in their head-to-head races within just hundredths of a second of one another, despite handicapped head starts that gave some racers several seconds of lead time on the course.
Racers who qualified for the finals were as young as 6 and as old as 70; participants were regularly bested by competitors half their height and vice versa as juniors toed the line with masters. On the men’s side, overall winner Chris Berns — a 61-year-old adaptive skier from Litiz, Pennsylvania — narrowly won the final race against 10-year-old skier Alexander Campian, of St. Louis. Aspenite Patrick Hurley, an 8-year-old skier, was third.
Platinum division overall winners on the men’s and women’s sides both received a $750 cash prize with their medals, second place scored $500 and third took home $250.
Sure, there were some tears and disappointment too — one young racer just wanted to keep racing after a rough run in an early round of finals. But it didn’t take long for those bumped out of the bracket to rally around their friends and competitors, posting up near the finish corral to make some noise and root for the racers.
Sophia Carlson was one of those eager to join in on the support-squad fun. The 8-year-old Aspen skier got bumped up to the Platinum division and successfully qualified for the finals after a speedy day in the Gold division races; she lost in the first round of Platinum finals to Elise Carson, a 12-year-old from North Carolina who ultimately won the overall title.
But Carlson was plenty excited just to see some of her friends at the top of the ranks, like 10-year-old Snowmass skier Sienna Fuller, who scored the silver medal — especially in a field that included many older and more experienced racers.
All three female medalists were junior racers; 12-year-old Carson and 10-year-old Fuller were joined by bronze medalist Isabelle Taylor, a 7-year-old from Big Sky, Montana.
“It feels crazy, and it feels like they worked really hard for it,” Carlson said.
Fuller, for her part, didn’t even think she would make it as far as she did in the finals races.
“It feels really cool and awesome,” Fuller said. “It’s heart-racing.”
As for the $500 cash prize she took home with her medal, some of it might be split with friends, she said. She and a gaggle of young racers who joined her in celebration were already eyeing the Fuxi Racing tent in the finish area hawking race suits and other alpine goodies.
There was no shortage of gratitude for Madsen’s efforts to produce a national event in a pandemic year, many NASTAR community members said in interviews.
“Bill Madsen — he’s a stud,” said Platinum-division Aspen skier Brad Hahn, 51, after the slalom warm-up race on Monday. Snowbiker Mike Sparkman said Madsen was “the greatest;” Sparkman appreciated the chance to bring his unique sport to the national state. Challenge Aspen’s Deb Sullivan said she wanted to thank Madsen for his flexibility in meeting the needs of adaptive racers on the course.
Masden’s mother, Martha, had high praise for her son too.
“It’s amazing that you’ve pulled it off so well,” she told him near the finish line Saturday afternoon.