NASTAR Nationals grassroots ski racing returns to Snowmass Village next week |

NASTAR Nationals grassroots ski racing returns to Snowmass Village next week

Week of head-to-head grassroots public racing championships take place April 4-9

Skier Lauren Jackson, of Carbondale (left) races Lynn Wise, of York, South Carolina, compete in the Bronze division head-to-head finals at NASTAR national championships on April 7, 2021, at Snowmass Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

NASTAR director Bill Madsen has good reason to believe that the late, great ski racer Spider Sabich would look fondly on the 500-odd racers who will take to the start gates at Snowmass Ski Area next week for the national championships of the largest public grassroots ski racing program in the world.

“I think Spider’s going to be smiling down on us,” Madsen said during an interview on the Village Express chairlift at Snowmass last week.

The NASTAR course on Upper Blue Grouse ends at the Spider Sabich Race Arena, after all, where racers of all levels can earn prize money, Madsen noted. Plus, it’s head-to-head competition (whoever crosses the finish line first wins the round), which Sabich helped develop with Bob Beattie in the 1970s.

And, this year, Spider Sabich Day on April 8 in Snowmass Village coincides with the NASTAR races that run April 4-9; Madsen, who is also the mayor Snowmass Village, set the official day with a proclamation earlier this month. Also, April 8 is a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame induction celebration for Sabich and screening of the documentary “Spider Lives.”

But unlike Sabich, many of the competitors who head down the slalom course next week have never competed at the professional level. Some have only just started to get into ski racing. Some head down on skis, yes, but also snowboards, telemark skis, adaptive equipment or snow bikes. The standardized format — NASTAR stands for NAtional STAndard Racing — means that any one of them could end up on the podium.

Racers compete in divisions based on their “handicap,” which is basically the difference between their time and the “par time” of a national pacesetter. Those terms sound familiar? They’re borrowed from the game of golf.

There are extra calculations for age, gender and mode of descent; participants of all ages and abilities race the same course and can compare their results apples-to-apples.

It’s the kind of race in which a 61-year-old adaptive skier might take the top step on the Platinum Division podium right next to a 10-year-old in second place and a 6-year-old in third. That happened just last year at the national championships, which were likewise held at Snowmass in 2021. (This year marks the sixth time Snowmass has hosted NASTAR Nationals.)

Racers can qualify for the national championships on any course in the country, including the ones on Silver Dip at Aspen Mountain and Upper Blue Grouse at Snowmass. Those two courses are free this year, which Madsen sees an avenue for racing never-evers to tap into the competition with a low barrier to entry. Race organizers have noticed as much out on the mountain, Madsen said.

“They’ve seen people coming out and racing that have never been into racing, because who wants to dig a couple bucks out of your pocket?” Madsen said. “If you’re really into it, you’d do it, but if it’s like you and I going skiing, it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go through the NASTAR course — it’s free.’”

Back in Sabich’s day, racing was the main event and the only event, Madsen said. Now, there’s competition.

“It was new and it was exciting and it was really the only game in town,” Madsen said. “Now there’s terrain parks, there’s big mountain. …There’s a lot of other things going on.”

But Madsen senses that there’s still a strong interest in racing around here, especially with free access to the local courses.

Aspen Mountain, where the course is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., has had more NASTAR participants this year than any other course in the country, he said. Snowmass Ski Area, where the course is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., holds the No. 2 spot.

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