NASTAR competitors snag ‘First Tracks’ with Olympic ski racers in Snowmass |

NASTAR competitors snag ‘First Tracks’ with Olympic ski racers in Snowmass

Grassroots ski racing championships put rec racers on the same course as the pros — and, sometimes, right next to them

Bode Miller speaks to a crowd of skiers at the base of the Elk Camp Gondola in Snowmass Base Village before "First Tracks" on Friday, April 8, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Every year, NASTAR National Championships is the kind of grassroots ski and snowboard racing event where pint-sized ski racers can end up on the podium alongside seasoned veterans of the sport — and where everyone, from the first-time racer to the repeat-and-repeat-and-repeat offender, can ski the same course as the professional speedsters who set the pace.

This year, some of those NASTAR competitors also got to ski right alongside the pros Friday morning during a First Tracks ski with Bode Miller, an Olympic and World Championship gold medalist who retired from pro racing in 2017. Revo Sunglasses, which partnered with Miller on a line of goggles, hosted the event.

Also part of the crew: U.S. Ski Team alumni Alice McKennis Duran and Marco Sullivan, both of whom are pacesetters at this week’s NASTAR champs, plus a gaggle of more than two dozen skiers eager to carve up Elk Camp. (Current national team members Paula Moltzan and Bridger Gile also were pacesetters this week.)

More than a handful wore racing suits (a couple even had their race bibs on display), ready to make a beeline to Spider Sabich Arena for the top-tier Platinum division championship finals.

Miller himself is no stranger to the NASTAR format — he’s skied “a bunch” of the courses and said he even “made a play” to take the reins of the organization a few years ago.

“I think it’s one of the coolest things that’s been around in the ski world, and it should be taken more and run with,” Miller said in an interview at Base Village after First Tracks. “I think it’s something that regardless of whether you consider yourself a racer or anything else, it’s just worth doing because it’s just a part of skiing that a lot of people aren’t exposed to that I think is awesome, and the accessibility makes it really fun.”

That “accessibility” means just about anyone, regardless of age or ability or discipline, can try their hand at ski racing.

There are divisions for skiers, snowboarders, telemarkers, snow bikers and adaptive athletes; the points-based scoring system puts everyone on the same playing field, and the age difference between podium finishers can be a few years or a few generations.

(One First Tracks skier and NASTAR competitor, 75-year-old Pat Moore of Ludlow, Vermont, said his grandsons — ages 10, 12 and 14 — also would be competing in the championships; he was slated to ski in the Platinum division and competed in the Gold division the day before, that time on a snowboard.)

For many of the young racers and some of the more seasoned ones, too, the First Tracks session was a chance to chat it up — and get a photo, of course — with Miller and his pro counterparts. After the morning session, one participant even got to test out the very pair of skis that Miller clicked into for First Tracks: a “Peak by Bode Miller” pair from Peak Ski Co., the direct-to-consumer brand Miller launched with co-founder Andy Wirth earlier this week.

Miller said he didn’t have any “idols” of that kind growing up, but he sees how the opportunity to carve with an Olympian can make an impression on racers taking on the ski world with gusto.

“More from a motivation standpoint, enthusiasm is critical. … It’s just fun, you know, but I do think that yeah, with that bit of inspiration, that bit of excitement, that bit of being able to kind of have a conversation about it, have a bragging point” helps, he suggested.