More than just skiing

NASTAR events celebrate nation's amateur racers

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— A pair of racers swap stories at the bottom of a slalom course, another couple share a joke a few feet away as 67-year-old Annette Stover sums up another day on the slopes.

"I made it down," Stover, who was visiting Steamboat from a Chicago suburb, announces. "I'm skiing and that's what it is all about. I've got friends back home who are using a walker or a cane to get around. They can't believe that I ski race."

But racing isn't the only reason that 1,340 people came to Steamboat Springs to take part in the NASTAR National Championships at Steamboat Ski Area. "This event is really about the celebration of ski racing. It's not just about what's going on at the hill. It's the Gin Blossoms on Thursday night, it's about the concert and raffle we did last night and it's the awards reception." said Billy Madsen, who runs operations for NASTAR.

The finals are a reflection of NASTAR's growing popularity at 120 resorts throughout the United States. During the recreational race series, anyone can pay a few dollars and race down a slalom course.

If their time is good enough, they end up at the national championships in Steamboat.

Ther were about 16,000 of those racers who qualified to compete in the NASTAR Championships, and many of them are here.

"Skiing and racing in NASTAR is one of the fastest ways to improve your skiing, So even if you don't want to go to the Olympics, and you just want to be a better skier, getting in a race course and a NASTAR is the best and easiest way to start," Steamboat skier Billy Kidd said. "But it's also a place where we will start to recognize some future Olympians. Some of these kids we see here today, we might just see in the Olympics in four, or eight or 12 years."

Kidd, who won the silver medal in the slalom at the 1964 Winter Olympic Games, has been involved with NASTAR since retiring from competitive skiing in 1970.

He thinks the recreation format allows a wide range of people to get a taste of ski racing and enjoy the sport, even if their goals don't include going to the Olympics.

This year's national championship field included skiers, ranging in age from 3 to 87, who qualified at one of the 120 resorts across the United States.

Developed by Ski Magazine in 1968, NASTAR is the largest recreational ski and snowboard race program in the world. Since it began, more than 5 million people have taken part in NASTAR races across the country.

Racers usually pay between $5 and $10 to race.

A handicap system allows racers of all ages and abilities to of all compare themselves with one another regardless of when or where they race. The top racers at each resort are invited to the national championships.

"It's about giving people the experience that our World Cup athletes have,' Madsen said. "This is their connection to the highest level of the sport of skiing, and what we try to do is bring that highest level of ski racing to the grass roots level."

It's a system that has been endorsed by some of the biggest names in ski racing in the United States.

Olympic gold medalist Diann Roffe is one of the program's supporters.

"I think NASTAR is an important thing." Roffe said. "It's import for those younger racers to have a chance to come out and see us, and ski race in a celebrated atmosphere."

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