Photo by Joel Reichenberger
Linda Walkup skis down the NASTAR course last week at Steamboat Ski Area. Walkup will be one of more than 1,000 racers who compete starting today in the NASTAR National Championships on Mount Werner.
Steamboat Springs Greg Forney describes ski racing the way a baseball fan might describe a 4-6-3 double play on Opening Day.
"A lot of people on the mountain are just skidding around," he said, speaking deliberately. "Ski racers, though, we're changing direction, but we're doing it without any kind of stopping motion."
He started talking faster.
"We're changing direction without losing any momentum. That's the carve," he said, emphatically now. "And the carve is very difficult to master. It's very exciting when you get good at it. The g-forces you can feel - it's just exhilarating."
It's that sensation that, in just seven years, has turned the 53-year-old Steamboat Springs Realtor into a ski-racing junkie.
Forney will be one of the nearly 1,400 racers who take to the starting gates beginning today in the four-day NASTAR National Championships at Steamboat Ski Area.
The racers are broken down by age - there are 22 divisions, from 1- to 4-year-olds all the way to 90- to 94-year-olds - and by skill. Racers qualified in either bronze, silver, gold or platinum divisions.
For some, the trip is a vacation with something a little extra.
For others, it's considerably more.
Forney started racing seven years ago. Since then, he's spent winter nights training with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club instructors and summer afternoon working out with Stein Halsnes, a Steamboat resident and former World Cup regular from Norway.
"I remember when I got started," Forney said. "One of the goals in my life was to run a downhill race. I just thought, 'That looks like the craziest thing a person would ever do.'"
Seven years later, Forney said he has trouble sleeping after a bad race. He travels the state and region to ski in the Masters ski races and is a regular on the Town Challenge circuit.
He has spent weeks preparing for this weekend's NASTAR competition, where he'll try to improve on a second-place finish in last year's 50- to 54-year-old gold division.
Racers will be assigned to different trails around the mountain. Each will get four runs - two each day - and then will be ranked by the average of their best time for each day.
The top racers from each age and division will qualify for Sunday's Race of Champions. The man and woman who record the best times there will win a trip to South America to train this summer with the U.S. Ski Team.
It's far from certain whether Forney's enthusiasm will be enough. He's bumping up to the platinum division.
Steamboat's Art Morrissey, who won last year's 50-54 gold division, also is taking the step up.
"You have to be aggressive and go for it - just throw caution to the wind," Morrissey said.
The pair will have to contend with Halsnes and a stable of other skiers capable of flying to victory, many of whom take their NASTAR runs at the ski area as seriously as Forney.
That does little to dim Forney's zeal, however, and he answered yet another question quickly and emphatically:
Where does he think he'll finish?
"In first," he said. "Yeah - first."