NASTAR (an acronym for NAtional STAndard Race) is the world's largest known recreational ski and snowboard race program. It allows ski or snowboard racers of all ages and abilities, through a handicap system, a way to compare themselves with one another and with the national champion, regardless of when and where they race. Since the program's beginning in 1968, more than 6 million NASTAR racer days have been recorded. It has been available at more than 100 ski resorts in North America. Many U.S. Ski Team stars got their start ski racing in NASTAR programs.
The NASTAR system borrowed from a French program started in the 1950s, in which ski instructors were rated by the percentage they lagged behind the time recorded by a top national team racer in slalom. Instructors five percent or less behind the fastest time won Chamois pins, qualifying them as pacesetters at their home ski areas. Unlike Nastar, the competitions were expert slaloms.
John Fry, former editor-in-chief of SKI Magazine, adapted this percentage-of-time system to a program for recreational ski racing in the United States, calling it the 'National Standard Race'. The program, given the acronym NASTAR, was introduced in 1968 as a means to compare the performance of recreational ski racers at resorts across the United States. Nastar courses are simple, open-gated giant slaloms on mostly intermediate terrain, allowing skiers of all abilities and ages to experience racing. Just as in golf's handicap system, skiers can compare their times and compete with one another regardless of where and when they compete. It takes into account varying terrain and snow conditions. The program started with 8 participating resorts and 2,297 skiers in the first year, but quickly grew in popularity, to more than 100 resorts and 6 millions skiers and snowboarders having participated by 2006. The program went through several national sponsors, the latest being Nature Valley.
The National Standard is the Par Time or the "0" handicap which every racer competes against when they race NASTAR. The "0" handicap is typically set by a U.S. Ski Team racer or former champion. Runners-up establish handicaps against the winner by their lag time percentage. These 'traveling pacesetters' compete against pacesetters from each NASTAR resort at sanctioned Regional Pacesetting Trials prior to the start of the following season. These events enable pacesetters from each individual resort to establish their own certified handicap against the national champion's Par Time or "0" handicap. The resort pacesetters use their certified handicap to set the Par Time at their local NASTAR course each racing day, and in turn give each participant who races at their resort a handicap that is referenced to the national champion. The Par Time is approximately the time the national NASTAR champion would have raced the course had he been there that day. Various allowances are then made for age group, gender, disability if any, snowboarders, etc. Every skier, regardless of ability or disability, can ski with a time referenced against the national champion, corrected for the specific resort and course conditions and his/her level. Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze designations are based on performance in several races, relative to each racer's age, gender and ability group. Championships are held near the end of the skiing season each year.
Standard NASTAR course
Participating NASTAR resorts are allowed some leeway in determining the location and set up of their NASTAR race venue but typically it is visible from a high traffic lift or lodge. The resort can decide whether to have single or dual courses. Each NASTAR course is essentially a modified Giant Slalom (GS) course with anywhere from 12 to 20 gates that racers must maneuver around. Gates are set with 18 to 20 meters distance between gates vertically and 4 to 8 meters of offset. Each resort is encouraged to standardize its course(s) to have a par time of 23 seconds and set courses so that no course is within 5% of the cap time. The "cap time" is the time it takes the local pacesetter to tuck from the start to the finish of their course without going around gates, and is the fastest possible time down the venue. Although the look and feel of each race venue varies, the above constraints, especially the nearly fixed par time by the pace setter, will tend to standardize the results. The overall standardization allows the participants to compare race times wherever and whenever they race.
NASTAR requires all participants to register. This is a free and easy process, which can be done online from home, via the NASTAR web site. Once registered, each racer pays a small entry fee per race. Races are timed electronically using a mechanical lever for the clock start and an optical beam sensor for the clock stop. The race results are saved on a computer and are uploaded by the resort to the central NASTAR database each race day. Once the data is on the central database (typically by the end of a racing day), it is publicly accessible and racers can easily view their performance history from various dates and resorts at any time.
Every ski resort in North America is encouraged to participate in the NASTAR program. The NASTAR organization sends out presentations and questionnaires to all resorts in the off season, to determine the resorts eligible for participation during the coming season. Participating resorts then receive a NASTAR kit and instructions that allow them to upload daily race data into the central NASTAR database. They also must have certified NASTAR pacesetters that can perform a pacesetting run on the designated course each racing day, to calibrate the handicap for the course conditions on that day.
Alpine Division skiers
Prior to the end of the season, the 3 top Alpine Division performers of each resort in each of the 4 medal divisions (Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze) are invited to compete in the National Championship. Those who choose to participate, compete against others in their respective category. Each racer is assigned a division in his or her appropriate gender and age group for the national race to 'level the playing field'. After the competition, for each gender and age group, the fastest 3 racers are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. Gold medal winners then compete in a final "Race of Champions" competition to determine the overall champion based on handicapped time, along with the fastest 3 racers based on 'raw' time.
Non-Alpine Division skiers
The non-Alpine Divisions (for the purposes of NASTAR championship racing classification) are Telemark, Physically Challenged, and Snowboarders. For each division, the top 100 performers during the season in their respective age and gender group are invited to compete in the National Championship. After the competition, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded for the fastest 3 racers by handicap in each division, gender and age group.
The National NASTAR Championship brings together over one thousand participants from the United States and Canada, of all ages and ability groups. The 2006 Championship was held in Steamboat Springs and included 1,337 racers of ages 3 to 86, from 44 U.S. states and Canada.
NASTAR as ski instructor qualification
Traditionally, ski instructor certification was based more on subjective assessment of form and technique rather than objective clock-based performance. Lately this has been changing, as a result of the wide availability and growing popularity of NASTAR.
On August 8, 2004, the Rocky Mountain Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) voted to allow a NASTAR gold medal (equivalent to a racing time within 16% of the national U.S. champion for a male in his 20's) as one of the pre-requisites for future certification of a Level 3 Ski Instructor. The Rocky Mountain Division of the PSIA includes the biggest ski resorts in the U.S., such as Vail, Aspen, Steamboat and Taos and has 6,000 members, half of which are certified as Level 3, the highest rating for an instructor.
- NASTAR Home (retrieved July 31, 2006)
- NASTAR on About (retrieved July 31, 2006)
- Based on NASTAR count of "Racer Days" (e.g. )
- Jim Fain, "A History of NASTAR", Skiing History
- NASTAR 2006 Race of Champions Results
- John Fry, Skiing Heritage Magazine Article (pages 5-6), December, 2004