Steamboat Springs Ski racing is at the heart of the 2007 Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships, but this weekend promises to be much more for the 1,400 recreational athletes competing.
Local racer Pete Wither said the events are filled with top racers, and great opportunities. He said last year was a rewarding experience, and not just because he finished fourth in the Platinum Division of the 60 to 64 age category.
"The interesting thing was that a lot of the racers at the start were the same guys I raced with in high school," Wither said. "I still knew their names, but we had a lot of catching up to do after 40-some years."
Wither said social aspects make these races a little more rewarding, and it also helps that the divisions are broken into age groups.
"These are the top NASTAR racers in the country, so things are still pretty competitive on the slopes," Wither said. "I've got a little different mind set this time. Last year I didn't know what to expect. Now I know what it's about, and I'm going to try to improve."
Heidi Thomsen, public re-
lations manager for the Steamboat Ski Area, said racing is a big part of this weekend, but there will be plenty of other events to enjoy outside the competitions.
"This is a great event for us," Thomsen said. "We've got all kinds of things planned that will make this a truly unique experience."
This is the second year the Steamboat Ski Area will host NASTAR. The race series was developed by SKI Magazine in 1968 and is the largest recreational ski and snowboard race program in the world. The program's mission is to provide a fun, competitive and easily accessible race program that, through the development of a handicap system, allows racers of all ages and abilities a means to compare their race results to other competitors across the country.
Competitors qualify for the national championships by racing at NASTAR venues at ski areas across the country. Only the racers ranked in the top three of their age and gender category at their resort are invited to Steamboat.
Thomsen said Steamboat expects about 1,400 competitors this weekend. But the event could draw three to four times that many people when friends and family members are added to the mix.
The championships, which are the ultimate reward for NASTAR participants, will get rolling Thursday at 6 p.m. when Big Head Todd & the Monsters takes the stage at Gondola Square. There also will be a laser show that night and a screening of a Warren Miller movie.
Competitors will take the slopes Friday competing on six different racecourses on the front side of Mount Werner. Competitors will range in age from 3-year-old Demitri Tanos of Polson, Mont. to 91-year-old John Woodward from Walden, NY.
On Friday night the ski area will host a rail jam and another Warren Miller screening as part of the championships.
Racing will continue Saturday and Sunday as ski racers from around the country chase after national titles on the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area. On Saturday, there will be a concert featuring Becky Alter followed by fireworks. Sunday will mark the end of this year's championships with racing continuing until about 1 p.m.