Afterward, the racers gathered at the bottom of the hill for the presentation of the pins: five gold, and 42 silver and bronze. At the ceremony—Bryce's idea, and not a universal NASTAR function—there was a lot of vigorous cheering and clapping of gloved hands: whup-whup-whup. It was cold, about 10�, and windy. Think what it takes to get 100 people, most of them losers, to stand still in weather like that, for a ceremony in which a few people receive a hokey pin. Enthusiasm!
But that was Bryce. At Hunter, ranked seventh among resorts in the number of NASTAR entries it attracts, the racers are a different breed—more serious and less excited, fewer under 16 and over 30, let alone 40 and 50. At one Wednesday race during the January frigid spell, there were only 10 entrants. Seven of them won pins.
Dick Brown, who heads the racing office at Hunter, says, "Any skier who can make competent linked turns can run a NASTAR course. The turns are nice and round, and we try to create a rhythm to the gates: up, down, up, down. Some people are nervous at first, but it becomes a fun thing because it's easy. Yet it's extremely satisfying. I've seen it happen a lot where a guy will come out and run one race, and then he gets hooked. There are a lot of frustrated racers out there."
Expert skiers, and certainly racers, might find the giant slaloms less than thrilling, but NASTAR officials point out that, while the courses are comfortable for intermediates, "Nobody can run them flat out, experts included." "It's a fantasy trip," says one enthusiast. "Your arms are over the starting wand at the top and a guy goes, 'Racer ready: three, two, one, go!' You feel the wind in your face, anticipate the gates, feel your edges cutting the snow.... It's a rush."
For a real rush, a few resorts occasionally have dual-gate NASTAR races—that is, simultaneous, head-to-head racing like the pros. But for the most part NASTAR is a very individual thing; the object is simply to lower your handicap, which is one reason NASTAR is attractive to, say, 50-year-old women with a predilection for psyching themselves out. Of course, NASTAR is not free of pressure from the ego-stroke element—what competition is?—but the biggest strokes come from self-improvement, which is a whole lot more reasonable than getting satisfaction from beating someone.