It may be hard to believe when you see him carving down World Cup and Olympic courses these days, but alpine star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety got his start with NASTAR (NAtional STAndard Race)—or so he’s told. “I was so young I don’t remember how old I was when I first raced NASTAR,” Ligety says. “But I think I was around 6. It’s a good first step for your run-of-the-mill skier to get a taste for racing. From there, it breeds an interest and, in some lucky people like myself, creates an addiction.”
If you’re a skier, you’ve likely glided by or ridden a chairlift over a NASTAR course: the relatively short, not-too-scary series of gates, set up typically on an intermediate run, are found at more than 100 resorts nationwide—including Park City and Deer Valley. Established in 1968 by SKI magazine, NASTAR is now the largest recreational ski-racing program in the world, culminating in a national championship event, scheduled to be held this season at Steamboat Ski Resort, March 24 to 27.
But if you’re like most skiers, you’ve probably never tried it, something that NASTAR Director Bill Madsen, through a new partnership with the US Ski Team, hopes to change. “We’re really trying to engage the alpine community and alpine skiers who maybe haven’t tried racing,” he says. “We want to continue to fill the racing pipeline with talented skiers.”
Even if you’ve long abandoned dreams of the World Cup circuit, NASTAR provides a forum where anyone—from toddlers and Gen Xers to twin-tippers and octogenarians—can race against both peers and national champion pacesetters like Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin, regardless of when and where they race. “You can race in Park City, and I can race in Aspen, and we can say, ‘Hey, how’d you do?’” explains Madsen. “We’re trying to connect the dots, so when kids or adults get involved in ski racing, they connect to a bigger community. NASTAR is like a social network.” But unlike most popular social networks, NASTAR gives skiers a fun, on-snow, and inspiring real-world experience. “We want young kids thinking, ‘I want to be like Ted Ligety. I want to do what he’s doing,’” Madsen says. “Those kinds of stories inspire the next generation.”