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VAIL RESORTS PULLS OUT OF NASTAR

FOUNDER CALLS IT A DISSERVICE TO GUESTS

 The National Standard Race, NASTAR –designed in 1968 – brought the equivalent of golf’s par to skiing. Now, one of the eight original NASTAR ski areas, Vail, has decided to pull itself and its other Colorado ski resorts out of the 44-year-old national recreation racing program. NASTAR founder John Fry calls Vail’s decision “a disservice to its guests.”

The NASTAR handicap is the percentage gap between a recreational skier’s time and that of the local pacesetter, whose own handicap derives from his performance against a top racer on the U.S. Ski Team. NASTAR races are short, open giant slalom-type courses, usually on intermediate terrain. Last season, a skier could compare his or her rating – gold, silver, bronze — to that of anyone at any of 120 resorts across North America.

In 2011-12, nearly 100,000 skiers compared their race times to pacesetter and U.S. Ski Team racer Steve Nyman. Due to the poor snow season, participation was down 8.4 percent from the 568,428 runs of the 2010-11 season. During that big year, Vail ranked as the most NASTAR-crazy resort in the nation, posting 29,310 runs. Beaver Creek was second, with 20,062 runs. Together, four Vail Resorts in Colorado accounted for more than 13 percent of all NASTAR runs in 2010-11.

That won’t be the case in 2012-13. This coming season, Vail is abandoning NASTAR in order to create its own standard race linked to the company’s EpicMix online skier-tracking program. The program will operate at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, and at Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar at Lake Tahoe.

NASTAR director Bill Madsen takes Vail’s exit philosophically. “Vail’s business model is to own everything that happens on the mountain. We will miss them. We think of NASTAR as a unifying force for the ski industry as a whole, and our championships as a unifying event.”

Four years ago, in a similar action, Vail Resorts withdrew its participation and funding from Colorado Ski Country USA, which promotes skiing at Colorado resorts.

NASTAR’s creator John Fry, former Editor-in-chief of SKI Magazine whose publisher came to own the program, is puzzled by Vail’s decision. “In the past, Vail guests coming from the East, Midwest or Far West, could enhance their NASTAR standings earned at their home ski area. That’ll no longer be possible.

“It’s difficult to see why Vail resorts would be doing this to their guests,” Fry continues. “Vail Resorts owns seven golf resorts. I doubt it would stop recognizing the handicaps guests hold at their home courses.”

Pacesetter for the EpicMix race season will be Vail skiing ambassador Lindsey Vonn, current World Cup women’s champion. EpicMix will hold a finale championship, to compete with NASTAR’s national championship, scheduled for Aspen/Snowmass at the end of March. The U.S. Ski Team, of which Vonn is a member, plays a prominent role in the Nastar championships, and even uses the handicap ratings of sub-teen racers to spot future talent.

EpicMix will rate racers by the number of seconds they’re behind the pacesetter, whose time is calibrated to Lindsey Vonn. Performance through the season is recorded on the skier’s pass, which is equipped with a radio-frequency identifying chip that also records lift rides and keeps a running total of vertical footage skied. Now the chip will automatically register the racer at the starting gate, billing the racer for each run ($5 or $6, according to a Vail press release). Finish times will post automatically to the EpicMix database. Race times, digital medals, leaderboards and race photos will be viewable on the EpicMix website and on the smart-phone app. Results can also be sent to a racer’s Facebook page or Twitter account.

It’s not the first time NASTAR has faced competition. The Equitable Family Ski Challenge, launched in the 1970s, ultimately failed.

The national pacesetter for NASTAR in the original 1968 season was Jimmie Heuga. The pacesetters for the upcoming 2012-13 season are U.S. Ski Team stars Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso.