Joel Reichenberger: Midwest racers measure up |

Joel Reichenberger: Midwest racers measure up

It looked like any of the 1,000 scenes that have played out this or any winter in Steamboat Springs.

A group of parents stood at the bottom of a ski run and cheered as their children flew down the mountain, cut through the final few gates and skidded to a stop in a cloud of snow.

Only these parents and their children weren’t like anything seen on your average Saturday morning at Howelsen Hill.

They represented the Alpine ski racing team from Chestnut Mountain, the finest ski resort in Galena, Ill.

NASTAR bills itself as ski racing for the everyman and is at its finest when the National Championships – wrapping up today at Steamboat Ski Area – cast skiers from across the nation into competition against one another.

Chestnut Mountain might be as good as it gets when it comes to skiing in America’s heartland. That won’t mean much to Steamboat locals, who growl when they haven’t seen fresh snow for a whole week and duck out of bounds at the ski area because they can’t find anything of interest in Steamboat’s 2,965 acres of accessible terrain.

The Illinois resort lies about 8 miles outside Galena, a city of less than 3,500 people that’s far more famous for being the home of Ulysses S. Grant than being a powder paradise.

The ski area’s vertical drop is 475 feet, or about the drop from the midway station on the Christie Peak Express to the base area.

Don’t take it too fast, though – the Mississippi River roars past only 150 feet beyond the bottom of the chairlifts.

Another mistake would be taking the Chestnut Mountain racers lightly.

About 15 racers made the trip to Steamboat for the NASTAR National Championships, and unless they were wearing their Chestnut Mountain jackets, there was no way to tell them apart from skiers from Aspen or Steamboat.

They flew down the See Ya race course with all the aggressiveness of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club studs, carving hard on the course’s turny top, then pulling into racer’s tucks as they zipped through the final gates and across the finish line.

“We take it seriously,” said Todd Flack, a parent and one of the team’s coaches.

Flack said there are challenges to running a ski team in corn country.

Though Chestnut Mountain boasts the Midwest’s most extensive snowmaking system, a powder day is a rarity as the area averages 50 inches of snow a year. Without any nearby major metropolitan areas, the ski team must rely on dedicated parents to shuttle their skiers in from across the region.

And they don’t ever get out of school early to go to the mountain and practice.

Cowbells clanged as the Chestnut skiers took their turns and a row of supportive parents mirrored their children’s every carve with handheld video cameras.

They skied like locals and they looked like locals, and you didn’t even have to squint.

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