NASTAR Director Bill Madsen has reason to believe that the late and great ski racer Spider Sabich would look fondly at the nearly 500 racers who take to the starting gates of the Snowmass ski area next week for the National Championships of the largest base public ski. running program in the world.
“I think Spider is going to smile at us,” Madsen said during an interview on the Village Express chairlift in Snowmass last week.
The NASTAR course on Upper Blue Grouse ends at the Spider Sabich Race Arena after all, where racers of all skill levels can win cash prizes, Madsen noted. Additionally, it’s a head-to-head competition (whoever crosses the finish line first wins the heat), which Sabich helped develop with Bob Beattie in the 1970s.
And, this year, Spider Sabich Day on April 8 at Snowmass Village coincides with the NASTAR races which run from April 4-9; Madsen, who is also the mayor of Snowmass Village, set the official day with a proclamation earlier this month. Additionally, April 8 is a United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame induction celebration for Sabich and the screening of the documentary “Spider Lives.”
But unlike Sabich, many of the competitors heading to the slalom course next week have never competed at the professional level. Some have just started ski racing. Some go skiing, yes, but also snowboarding, telemark, adapted equipment or snowmobile. The standardized format – NASTAR stands for NAtional STAndard Racing – means any of them could end up on the podium.
Riders compete in splits based on their “handicap,” which is essentially the difference between their time and a national pacer’s “normal time.” Do these terms sound familiar to you? They are borrowed from the game of golf.
There are additional calculations for age, sex and mode of descent; participants of all ages and abilities ride the same course and can compare their results between apples.
It’s the kind of race in which a 61-year-old adapted skier could step onto the top step of the Platinum Division podium right next to a 10-year-old in second place and a 6-year-old in third. . This happened last year at the Nationals, which were also held at Snowmass in 2021. (This year marks the sixth time Snowmass has hosted the NASTAR Nationals.)
Riders can qualify for Nationals at any course in the country, including those on Silver Dip at Aspen Mountain and Upper Blue Grouse at Snowmass. Both of these courses are free this year, which Madsen sees as an opportunity for ever racing to enjoy competition with a low barrier to entry. Race organizers noticed it on the mountain, Madsen said.
“They’ve seen people go out and race that have never been in the race, because who wants to take a few bucks out of your pocket?” Madsen said. “If you’re really into it, you would, but if it’s like you and I are going skiing, it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s take the NASTAR course – it’s free.'”
In Sabich’s time, the race was the main event and the only event, Madsen said. Now there is competition.
“It was new and exciting and it was really the only game in town,” Madsen said. “Now there are snow parks, there is the big mountain. … A lot of other things are happening.
But Madsen feels there is still strong interest in racing here, especially with free access to local courses.
Aspen Mountain, where the course is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., had more NASTAR entrants this year than any other course in the country, he said. The Snowmass ski area, where the course is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., ranks second.