The news at last: The Nastar Nationals will be at Colorado resort Winter Park, March 22-25.
There’s always a large group from Utah who attend this event. Racers can’t just go; they must qualify by being within the top three of their age division at any of the 130 resorts that host Nastar. In Utah, that includes Deer Valley, Park City and Snowbasin. It’s the largest ski race in the world, with nearly 2,000 racers every year. They come from all over the world, with competitors as young as 4 and as old as 90.
Winter Park has hosted the nationals twice, and participants raved. Last season, WP also hosted the U.S. Alpine National Championships. Terrain and snow quality at the resort match anything to be found in Utah, plus hotels and condos line the lower trails, giving visitors a convenient ski-in, ski-out—or snowboard in-out—experience. It’s great to get into your racing suit, put on your bib and glide down to the lift—or, at the end of the day, ride down to your room.
But if you intend to qualify, you’d better be in shape. Bill Skinner, head coach of the Park City Masters team and U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association Masters coordinator, has some tips. But remember, race training, even on the Nastar level, is more intense than the conditioning needed for more casual snowriding.
For racers, Skinner advises, “The first thing you should do is spend 20 minutes on the exercise bike, or ride 20 minutes to wherever you’re going to work out. If you’re going to challenge yourself on a race course, you want to be able to handle it and to be in good physical condition to avoid injuries.”
Many racers think it’s all about leg strength, but legs are almost secondary. “When you make recoveries while skiing or racing, it takes core muscles,” Skinner says. "Core strength is key to getting forward and recovering if you’re off balance. You don’t use your legs for that; you use your stomach muscles, you use your back muscles. The best thing to do is some kind of core training.”
He keeps it simple, mainly doing crunches and situps. If you don’t have access to a gym, you can do these on an exercise ball and even work your important spinal erectors by placing the ball under your hips and thighs, bending your head down to the floor and raising up so your back is straight. Twist your torso from side to side to work your obliques. Those are core side muscles used to make accurate turns on snow.
But Skinner, a Masters champion, also works his upper body. “I do upper body, arm and shoulder machines for upper-body strength—not mass—using a larger number of reps rather than a larger weight. I work triceps for starts and pole plants. You want well-coordinated body strength. You’re moving in all directions on a race course; it’s a very dynamic sport.” He also advises working hamstrings, which many racers don’t do enough, despite the fact that hamstrings protect your knees while you’re skiing or snowboarding.
Skinner’s favorite exercise for well-rounded strength is a killer, but it will get you in shape fast. He says, “I take a barbell—just one bar with weight on it—squat down, then stand up, then pull the bar up to chest level, bend over at the waist, lower the bar with arms straight, then pull it back up to chest level. Then squat down and lay the bar down. Do three sets of five. It builds total body strength and simulates the different ranges of motion used when racing. Then I cool down with another 20 minutes on the bike.”
It’s not an all-day affair. Skinner says he spends about an hour and a half in the gym. Use his tips to start training now, and qualifying for Nastar will be easy.