Ted Ligety, Casey Puckett in Snowmass for NASTAR nationals
Ski racers from throughout the U.S., including reigning Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety, will light up the slopes of Snowmass during the NASTAR National Championships this week.
NASTAR is a recreational ski-racing program that scores individuals with a handicap based on their ages and abilities. This is the second consecutive year that it will have its national championship event in Snowmass.
Ligety is pace-setting for the competition, as is Aspen’s own Olympian and X Games gold medalist Casey Puckett. Puckett grew up racing on NASTAR courses in Crested Butte.
“NASTAR’s just a great grassroots program that introduces people to alpine racing,” Puckett said.
NASTAR courses exist on ski areas around the country, making the program accessible to people who want to try racing, Puckett said.
“Outside of being part of a ski club and having training in a ski club, anyone can go and go through a NASTAR course and get a taste for it, and that’s a great introduction to alpine racing,” he said.
The championship races separate competitors by age and ability. Mary Morse, 5, of Snowmass Village, is competing in the girls’ 1-5 division.
Morse started racing on the NASTAR course on Snowmass in February after watching races in the Winter Olympics, said her mother, Erin Morse.
“She would set up a racecourse in our yard with all the old ski poles from the garage and do that in the front yard,” Erin Morse said. “I mean it was like 10 feet long, but she would be out there till almost dark. She loves it.”
The younger Morse, who started skiing when she was 3, skis fast enough to win a gold medal with her handicap, but she’d like to win platinum. On March 24, she practiced her competitive skills in a race clinic.
“I went on a course, and that course was so fun,” Mary Morse said. “It had those little bushes around the gates so you could ski the course.”
Mary Morse’s division will race on Scooper. Other age groups race on Velvet Falls, Blue Grouse or Cabin Trail, all near or in the Spider Sabich Race Area.
“I think the best part is they announce their name and then they say their time,” Erin Morse said. “It’s so exciting when they hear their name being called out.”
The National Championships move around to different resort locations. Last year was the first time they were held in Snowmass since 1998, the same year NASTAR adopted its current scoring system and allowed more people to qualify.
This year’s schedule includes time for Ligety, Puckett and the other “celebrity pacesetters” to sign autographs and mingle with competitors. There also will be live music in Base Village on March 27, 28 and 29.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”