A race for all ages at NASTAR national championships this week in Snowmass
“Everybody has an opportunity to win” at grassroots alpine racing championships
“Everybody has an opportunity to win” at the National Standard Racing (NASTAR) alpine racing championships Monday through Friday at Snowmass, according to organization director Bill Madsen.
And when Madsen says “everybody,” he means it: The largest grassroots alpine racing program in the world uses a points-based system that allows competitors of all ages and abilities to compare their scores apples-to-apples and compete on the same courses for the same prizes. More than 450 participants from across the country are registered to compete.
BREAK OUT THE CALCULATORS
Racers qualify for the national championships by earning a medal on one run on any NASTAR course on one or more race days this season.
But how they earn that medal isn’t based on the three fastest times on race day. NASTAR’s points-based system determines who earns which designation (bronze, silver, gold or platinum) based on a racer’s time compared to that of a pacesetter.
Think of it a bit like a game of golf: A pacesetter at the hosting resort sets a “par time” for a given NASTAR course. Racers aim to meet that par time, or get as close to it as they can. Their “handicap” is the percent increase in time spent on the course compared to the pacesetter.
If the par time is 25 seconds, and a racer completes the course in 30 seconds, then that racer’s handicap is 20, since they spent 20% more time on the course than the pacesetter. Snowboarders, telemark skiers, snow bikers and adaptive athletes get handicap discounts ranging from 15 to 75 percentage points. A snowboarder (with a 20-percentage-point discount) who spends 25% more time on the course only logs a 5% handicap.
Telemark skiers are penalized one second per turn any time they do not execute a tele turn.
At next week’s national championships, U.S. Ski Team members Laurenne Ross, Paula Moltzan, River Radamus and Luke Winters will help set the par time.
All racers can score between one and 10 NASTAR team points based on their handicap. A handicap chart determines how many team points a racer earns based on their handicap, age and gender.
Male ski racers between the ages of 18 and 29 must complete the course just as fast as the pace-setter (earning a handicap of zero) to earn a perfect 10 points. Other racers have more leeway: A 95-year-old female skier could spend up to 80% more time on the course and still earn 10 points, while a 30-year-old male skier must get within 1% of the par time for a perfect 10.
Racers with 9.01 to 10 team points earn the platinum medal designation, racers with 7.01 to 9 points earn gold, racers with 4.01 to 7 points earn silver and racers with 1.01 to 4 points earn bronze.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
NASTAR’s points-based system means competitors of all disciplines and ages could end up at the top of their ranks. Racers at nationals will compete by division: bronze, silver, gold or platinum, based on qualifying races on any NASTAR course.
Participants log the best of two runs, with the opportunity to take additional runs as time and conditions allow on raced day.
The top 32 male and top 32 female point-getters in each division will advance to the finals the next day. (There is no second-day finals for the slalom warm-up race on Monday.) In the platinum group, that’s the 32 competitors who score closest to 10 team points; in gold, nine points; in silver, seven points; in bronze, four points.
The finals seed those 32 racers from each division into a bracket to race head-to-head, single-elimination style. Racers carry their handicap to the start line, so the racer with the larger handicap will get a head start; handicaps will be updated during the finals.
“It’s a really fun format, and it’s a way to level out the field of play so that everybody has an opportunity to win,” Madsen said. “The key is to just keep skiing faster and faster all the time and just keep winning.”
And winning — and winning: The multi-day race format allows a bronze-level athlete who scores enough points to level up to the next division the next day. In theory, a bronze athlete with a speedy streak could compete in all four divisions at nationals.
“We really want people to improve their skills, and if they ski fast, they get to race more,” Madsen said.
Leveling up also gives racers a chance to earn more prize money: the overall male and female winners in the bronze division will nab $200; purses increase by division, up to $750 for the platinum winners. (Leveling up does preclude racers from competing in the lower-division finals; competitors are only eligible for prize money in the fastest division they compete in during nationals.)
This is the first time NASTAR has offered prize money for winners across all four divisions, according to Madsen.
“I like the whole theory of being able to give back,” he said.
A SOCIAL NETWORK
The national championships aren’t just a way for racers to earn glory and prizes. It’s also a chance for them to compete against and get to know their peers, many of whom they’ve only seen on the rankings and results pages of the NASTAR website.
“The most interesting part of the event are the people that show up — it’s quite the cast of characters,” Madsen said. “They meet people that they see online, like they’re checking their rankings out, they see all these names, … and then they see them at the start.”
“It’s a social network, so it’s a fun way to connect people who are excited about ski racing,” he said.
April 5: Slalom Warm-Up Race (all divisions).
April 6: Bronze Division Racing
April 7: Bronze Division Head-to-Head Finals; Silver Division Racing
April 8: Silver Division Head-to-Head Finals; Gold Division Racing
April 9: Gold Division Head-to-Head Finals; Platinum Division Racing
April 10: Platinum Division Head-to-Head Finals
In an effort to reduce gatherings, there will be no awards ceremonies after the divisional finals, according to an emailed update from NASTAR Director Bill Madsen. Winners can pick up their medals in the registration room located at the Base Village Conference Center. For a complete schedule, visit nastar.com/news/2021-national-championship-event-schedule.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the date of the slalom warm-up race on Monday.
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