NASTAR racers look for every edge they can find in Steamboat Springs |

NASTAR racers look for every edge they can find in Steamboat Springs

Roger Ross cuts between the gates on the NASTAR course at the Steamboat Ski Area. Ross was fine-tuning his form Friday in preparation for the NASTAR National Championships, which start Thursday in Steamboat Springs. Ross estimated he's put in more than 200 runs this winter, refining his style and lessening his personal best time.
Joel Reichenberger

“Hey,” Travis Crooke barked, his voice cutting through the crisp spring air and bringing a sudden silence to the gatehouse atop the NASTAR course in Bashor Bowl at Steamboat Ski Area.

He made eye contact with 9-year-old Omar Zakaria, who stood with his poles clasped tightly in his hands. He dug them into the snow in front of the course’s staring wand.

“Positive thoughts,” Crooke said.

“Too late,” Zakaria quipped. “They’re all negative.”

Positive thoughts – just another on the long checklist of things that make for a great NASTAR run.

A collection of Steamboat Springs’ NASTAR regulars rambled off a long list of tips Friday.

“Ski a lot,” offered Linda Walkup, a NASTAR competitor who regularly travels to Steamboat to race.

She will compete next week in the NASTAR National Championships – Steamboat again will play host to the event – for the fourth time.

She’s not overly confident about her chances against a tough field, but she is confident that her skiing has improved as her focus on racing has increased.

“Stay forward,” she added. “Don’t skid through the gate.”

Challenging yet accessible

Steamboat Ski Area’s NASTAR course isn’t exactly the most difficult terrain on the mountain.

“It’s modest blue terrain,” said public race supervisor Trevyn Newpher, who spent time Friday starting racers down the short terrain. “The idea is for it to be accessible to a lot of different skiers.”

Plenty find challenge in the short Bashor Bowl course, however.

The NASTAR course was open for two hours Friday, and a steady stream of skiers revealed talent of all types.

Roger Ross, a 70-year-old Steamboat Springs resident, is a course regular and flew through the spring slush in hopes of shaving a few seconds off his time.

He turned to another regular, Tom Zehner, for advice after every trip.

Zehner has competed in the NASTAR championships six times and will do so again this year. Then, he will undergo a total knee replacement.

He said he’s swung through the gates on the course about 300 times this winter alone and is there so often, he volunteers to help the staff.

The list of tips only grows longer.

“I just ask Tom,” Ross said. “I’m working on getting my skis away from me and getting more strongly on my downhill edge.”

Zehner had plenty of ideas, as well.

“Keep your eyes ahead a couple of gates,” he said. “Turn high above the gate. A lot of people turn too late.”

A race for all levels

Not everyone skiing Friday planned to return a week later for the four-day national championships.

The event starts Thursday and will pit nearly 1,400 skiers against one another in a race to become the fastest in their age and skill divisions.

Andrew Squires, in town with his family from Edmond, Okla., on a spring break ski vacation, had one piece of advice

“Stay low,” he said.

Riley and Carson Pepper, vacationing from Texas, struggled making their first turns on the course, sliding out of the slushy track.

On the entire opposite end of the spectrum, Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong had plenty of advice.

“People need to beeline it to the finish,” she said. “A lot of people get in the rhythm of turning down the course, and they keep turning right through the finish line.

“The other thing, you see a lot of experienced skiers, the first thing they want to do is go into a tuck to be aerodynamic. The average Joe’s tuck isn’t very dynamic, and he should never sacrifice a good carve turn for a tuck.”

Ever improving

Omar Zakaria traveled from New York to ski with his family, and he spent his entire morning carefully listening to ski instructor Travis Crooke’s advice.

Anything to get faster.

“You’re looking ahead at the next couple gates,” Zakaria said, echoing advice from a number of sources. “Don’t ski with your skis close together. Don’t slide through your entries. Roll and balance on the entries.”

Omar started the day with a bronze-medal run.

Then, he logged five separate silver-medal runs.

He improved within a half a second of a gold, then during the next two runs, cut into the already thin margin.

Finally, buoyed by a piece of advice from Crooke, he flung himself down for one more run.

“Positive thoughts,” Crooke called as Omar pushed out of the gate.

Omar finally slid across the finish line in a gold medal-worthy time.

“I got it,” he said, moments later. “Finally.”

Crooke had plenty of extra tips.

“Study the course to see where the anomalies are,” he said. “Always be looking ahead.

“And my last one is, you always have to be positive.”

Marlin Walkup, Linda’s 10-year-old son, matched his mom’s every run.

He wore a skin-tight race suit and had tried to incorporate every piece of advice he’s gotten either from the Billy Kidd race camp he participated in earlier this season or from fellow competitors making laps down the course.

“Just do whatever Billy says,” he suggested at first.

Later, he thought a little more.

“There’s a lot to remember,” he said.

– To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail

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