Olympic ski racer AJ Kitt races at the NASTAR National Championships in Steamboat Springs a few years ago. Kitt and several other big-name skiers are expected to be the pacesetters for this year's championships. Racing begins Friday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Olympic ski racer AJ Kitt races at the NASTAR National Championships in Steamboat Springs a few years ago. Kitt and several other big-name skiers are expected to be the pacesetters for this year's championships. Racing begins Friday.

NASTAR takes 'Boat by storm

Competition represents diverse group of skiers


Trail closures

Several Steamboat Ski Area trails will be closed this week for the NASTAR National Championships. Ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said skiers should be aware that lifts will be a little busier because of the championships and the busy Spring Break season.

The Sitz, See Me, See Ya, Voo Doo and Vogue trails will be closed through Saturday. Vogue and Voo Doo are expected to reopen Sunday.

Thomsen said skiers should pay special attention to signs and other posted warnings. Despite the closures, she said there will be plenty of trails for an enjoyable skiing experience for everyone on the mountain.

— They all share a love for ski racing, but it's otherwise difficult to generalize the athletes in Steamboat Springs for this week's Nature Valley NASTAR National Ski Championships.

"We have 1,100 skiers that represent 43 states," said Bill Madsen, director of operations for NASTAR. "They come for the camaraderie, and they come for the competition."

Beyond that, the similarities start to fade.

The athletes in this week's races are from different generations, different competitive backgrounds and different parts of the country. They arrive with different goals and different definitions of success, Madsen said.

They range from 93-year-old John Woodward, of Mesa, Ariz., who was an officer in the 10th Mountain Division that fought the Germans in World War II, to 4-year-old Wiley Corra, of Durango, who someday might read about the soldier's heroic efforts in a high school history class.

For some, the championships are the biggest race of the season and a chance to bring home a national title to the ski league where they qualified. For others, the event is another chance to step into the start gate, push their racing skills to the next level and gain valuable experience that could launch them onto a national team.

Madsen said one thing all the skiers and snowboarders in this weekend's championships share is a top ranking at one of the 120 resorts throughout North America where NASTAR has found a home. They all qualified to come to Steamboat by finishing in the top three in end-of-season rankings at their home resort. The race series features a unique handicap system and U.S. Ski Team pace setters such as Daron Rahlves, Phil Mahre, Diann Roffe, AJ Kitt, Doug Lewis and Jake Fiala.

The reward for a top ranking is an invitation to race for a national title in Steamboat Springs. Starting Friday, those racers will attempt to win one of the 184 national titles that are up for grabs in 23 age classes (46 if you count men's and women's separately) and four divisions.

"I was amazed by the amount of people who take part in these races," said Lorin Paley, a 15-year-old racer from Steamboat Springs. In 2007, Paley raced to a title in the 13- to 14-year-old age class of the platinum division in her first attempt at the national championships. However, it was one of the event's celebrity pacesetters who made the biggest impression on the young Steamboat skier.

"The moment I will always remember was watching Daron Rahlves come down the racecourse," Paley said. "He is one of the best U.S. downhill racers of all time."

This year, Paley will return to the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area hoping to repeat the success she enjoyed at last year's championships. Only this time, she plans to do it on telemark skis instead of the Alpine boards she used last year.

"I'm using this race as a tune up for a World Cup race," Paley said.

"NASTAR has brought nearly 4,000 racers, plus many more family and friends, to Steamboat the past three years. We couldn't be more proud to host this prestigious event, as ski racing is a true part of Steamboat's heritage," ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said.

This year's championships begin at 5:30 p.m. today with an opening ceremony followed at 7 p.m. by a free concert featuring Rusted Root and a screening of a Warren Miller film in Gondola Square. Fireworks will conclude the evening at 8:30 p.m. at the base of the ski area.

Racing will begin at 9:30 a.m. Friday on six different courses and will continue through Saturday. Sunday will be reserved for the winners, with the Race of Champions from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.


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