At day one of NASTAR nationals in Snowmass, camaraderie is king
Competitors from coast to coast hit the slopes at Snowmass
Tom Kennedy is something of a legend around these parts: The 69-year-old Aspen local is a regular at the long-running Aspen-Snowmass Town Race Series and has been competing in ski racing for nearly 50 years, he said at the base of the slalom warm-up course during the National Standard Racing (NASTAR) alpine racing national championships Monday morning.
“I just love competing,” Kennedy said. (The “legend” status isn’t one he claimed for himself; fellow competitor Brad Hahn bestowed that title in an interview shortly before joining Kennedy for a picnic lunch.)
But for all his experience in ski racing, Kennedy is still logging “firsts” on the mountain: This year is the first time he has ever competed in NASTAR nationals in the current format, he said.
Snowmass hosts this year for the fifth time in program history; other recent racing venues include Squaw Valley, California, and Steamboat Springs, but racers can qualify on any NASTAR course at one of more than 80 participating resorts in 25 states.
Kennedy will race again in the gold division giant slalom race on Thursday; NASTAR’s national championship competition runs daily through Saturday on the Upper Blue Grouse run at Snowmass this year, with giant slalom courses for divisional races after Monday’s slalom.
So why this year to compete in national championships?
“It was convenient,” Kennedy said.
Plus, there’s “the camaraderie, competing with a bunch of people” Kennedy likes, he said. Racers get to know each other after so many times at the same start gate; same goes for staffers on the course.
“They become friends, too,” Kennedy said of race officials.
The post-event scene at Monday’s slalom warm-up race featured picnicking competitors and folks spotting familiar faces at rows of tables outside the Lynn Britt Cabin. It’s not uncommon for racers to recognize names in competition from the online NASTAR rankings, NASTAR director Bill Madsen previously told The Aspen Times.
Hahn, also an Aspenite, Town Race Series regular and NASTAR nationals first-timer, decided to get back into the competitive spirit this year after a nearly three-decade hiatus from racing. (He competed back in high school and college.) The 51-year-old’s scores in his age group have qualified him for the top-ranked platinum division, but it doesn’t take a record-setting speedster to earn a spot on the podium.
“Everybody can do it,” Hahn said.
Qualifying for nationals this year required just one run meeting at least the bronze-level standard; NASTAR’s points-based scoring system allows competitors of all ages and abilities to compare their scores apples-to-apples.
“We have a 4-year-old and an 82-year-old skiing every (week),” Hahn said.
For those who spot the course from the Village Express chairlift and wonder whether they should join in next year, Hahn encourages seizing the opportunity.
“Get up on the hill — it’s awesome,” Hahn said.
The list of registered competitors at this week’s nationals includes more than 450 participants in every age group — from groms in the 1-4 grouping to senior racers in the 90-94 bracket —and from coast to coast and everywhere in between.
For some, like 13-year-old Kelly Shaw of Ohio, coming to NASTAR nationals is a chance not only to compete but to ski bigger mountains at hosting ski areas. Shaw’s home resort at Mad River Mountain (“It should be called Mad River Hill,” he joked) logs 300 vertical feet from top to bottom; Snowmass totals more than 4,400.
“It’s so much fun to come out here and ski these big mountains in Colorado,” Shaw said.
Shaw competes in the platinum division this week and will be aiming for a podium spot among racers in the male 12-13 age group. And he keeps an eye on those overall online rankings, too.
“Even to see yourself as top 100 is like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
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