It is 9:00 am on a Tuesday morning, December something, 2004. It's 5 degrees
above zero (this sounds way more impressive at -15 Celsius) and I am stripping
down to my race suit.
"Bully!" I hear my Masters coach yell at me. Bobby Skinner skis by with his
group, and points his steely finger at me-as he and I both know I should be
out doing my drills with the Park City Masters racers (arguably, where I really
belong). The only problem is I am a Nastar Junkie: a gate-bashing, pro-style
sprint racer. I AM the beast. Number 1. The Drainiator! In the small pond
of the 17-second course, I reign supreme. Now to add a fair and balanced tilt
to this rant, I should say that once I'm dragged off to the vertical ice rink
that is CB's race run, land of the Master Racer, my dominance quickly fades
to top 20 (on my good days, when I'm not tearing my ligaments out of my knees).
NASTAR is an acronym for [the] National Standard Race-a concept that was
started some 40-plus years ago in France (yah, I said France, and I ski on
Rossignols, and NO I WON'T BUY FRENCH WINE!!) to measure their instructors'
competence against the French National Team members (and yes, at least their
instructors can race over there). Well as with the French Fry, it took an
American entrepreneur (a French word?) to figure out the incredible value
of this system that ostensibly allows any skier or snowboarder of any level
to see what percentage they are off from the best in the US. Like golf, a
Nastar Racer gets a "Handicap" that levels the playing field between the best
and the worst of us. The handicap is based on age, sex, type of snow sliding
device (telemark, snowboard, three-track), and there are adjustments for most
physical impairments, like blindness.
So what is the attraction of this format of racing? Well for starters, it's
safer than Free-Style Motocross, Skier-Cross, jumping off of 500-foot cornices,
etc. But the real attraction is this: Nastar racing is wildly fun! It is the
only format that you can take as many runs a day as you want for $10 bucks
plus a lift ticket. Each year, Nastar keeps improving their system and making
their program more accessible to ski resorts by letting them actually turn
a profit (something unheard of ski racing).
This thing is so fun that Dr. Liz (Elizabeth Marshall, soon to be Dr. Dranow,
poor thing) and I are writing a book called "The Modern Ski Racing Turn" (or
The MSRT for short), "Recreational Racing to Win." Are we writing this to
make money? Well, uh, sure. Dumb question. It was started, however, simply
out of wanting to share our passion for the sport of alpine ski racing with
as many people as possible. We intend to make this sport easier and more accessible
for folks to step into the starting gate and just keep coming back, again
In 1998 (don't quote me on the date, but I'm close) Nastar came out with
their first iteration of their Website scoring system. Today every recreational
racer logs onto WWW.NASTAR.COM as soon as they get home to see how they have
faired against their friends, family, the other guy in the other course and
the area "Bullies" like me.
Nastar is not just for those who like two boards nailed to the bottom of
their feet. The Snowboarder division is growing fast. Whether you ride a carving
board or love Slope Style, you can jump in the course and beat the pants off
the Alpine Dude running next to you; you're handicap adjustments will make
it a level playing field. It isn't who gets through the finish first (though
that is always fun); it's who has the lowest handicap. And since Nastar is
all about feedback, you'll know it in the finish area as the announcer gives
you your time AND handicap! The medal you win (Gold, Silver, or Bronze) is
based on your handicap.
Nastar is growing faster than a tick on a dog. With over 100,000 individual
racers jumping in the gate each of the last two years and over 1,000 participants
at the Nationals here at Park City each of the last two years, there is undeniable
proof that recreational racing is alive and well.
So as I slink into the starting gate, knowing I am unbeatable, I look to
my left and there stands Mitt Coats, a 17-year-old, fire breathing dragon,
and member of the Park City Ski Team. I think about backing out, but Scott
Vennis is eyeballing me and blocking my exit. On this run, I'm .40 seconds
behind Scott and .30 behind Mitt-a veritable mile on a 17 second spring course
(we have lobbied and lobbied for a measly 10 seconds more, but our collective,
plaintive voices are simply not heard by the powers that be at Park City Mountain).
Of course, I'm just about to turn 50 in a couple of months, so I skate off
to make another lap, muttering "fleeb-flarbing kids" under my breath.
Later in the day-after my 15th run-out come the Masters racers to see if
they can knock off old man Dranow. One by one they try, and one by one they
skate off shaking their heads, having fallen well short of my low handicap
of the day. Even my dear friend Harold DeBlanc, a Masters top 10 (good days
top 5 OVERALL) comes out and falls short by a few hundredths of a second.
A real thrashing for my buddy's ego, heh, heh.
I know, I know. I swore off Nastar last season after having enough titanium
put in my neck to return to my Masters addiction. But I know I'm weak, I'll
be back. Besides, I just moved up to pick on the 50 year olds, the AARP Class
in both Nastar and Masters. Being the bully that I am, how could I pass this
If you want a real good time, forget that number on the bathroom wall, go
to WWW.NASTAR.COM and find out where to race, jump in the gate and see where
you stand in the Big Pond.
Men's 2002, 03 Expert 45 - 49 National Ranking Number 1
Men's 2004 Expert 45 - 49 National Ranking Number 3 (here is where the excuses
start over a beer or two).
Oh Yeah, Tommy, I'm calling YOU out!