Friday, November 23, 2012

Wood River Valley offers multitude of ski races

Some race for the fun and personal challenge, while others are serious competitors

Express Staff Writer

A ski racer speeds down Bald Mountain last winter. Photo by Mountain Express

Carving turns on Sun Valley’s miles of evenly pitched, perfectly groomed corduroy inspires many skiers to go one step further and learn to race. They find that ski racing opens a huge new area of athletic challenge. An additional benefit is that ski racers are almost always content with the conditions—when it snows, they go powder skiing, and when it doesn’t, they run gates on the hardpack. Many also discover that it’s never too late to learn. Most of the enthusiastic participants in the Sun Valley Snowsports School’s Masters Race Clinic hardly ran a gate until they retired from their careers. 



The easiest way to try out racing at Sun Valley is through NASTAR, which is held every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on easy terrain on lower Cozy. NASTAR attracts the full range of skiers, from small children who can’t figure out which side of the gate poles to go around to good racers with single-digit handicaps. All that’s required is to show up at the Race Department desk in the Warm Springs Lodge or at the start on race day and pay $6 for two runs. Additional runs are $1 each. Age-based handicaps adjust times to determine medal winners.


Town Series

Adult racers willing to make a season-long commitment can race in the weekly Town Series, which is held on a lengthened NASTAR-type course on lower Cozy. Four-person teams vie not for the fastest time over their two runs, but for consistency from week to week. Often, the good racers are also the most consistent, but by no means always. Race Department employee Candice Crane points out that because only each team’s most consistent three racers’ times count each week, teams can win simply by ensuring that all four members show up for each race.

“You do not have to be a good racer,” Crane emphasized. “It’s for all abilities.”

Though the Race Department does not organize teams, those looking to join a team can leave their contact info at the Race Department desk and the department will try to hook them up with one. Crane urges people without a team to at least show up for the first race of the season, when handicaps are set and teams find out whether any of their members have dropped out.


Soldier Mountain Downhill

Every year in late February—every year with decent snowpack, at least—speed addicts converge on Soldier Mountain near Fairfield for the Soldier Mountain Downhill. The three-day event includes one day of downhill coaching, a locals race and a USSA Masters race. The 1,400-vertical-foot course is not too strenuous or difficult but it has a variety of terrain, including one big jump and two small ones. And it is a genuine downhill. Anyone considering racing should have downhill on long super G skis.


Lane Parrish race

In late March, the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation holds its fundraising Lane Parrish event, which consists of a bump contest and a super G race. People can compete in either event or vie for top honors as overall winner in several age groups. The one-run super G starts on steep upper Greyhawk and continues down Hemingway. This race attracts a variety of abilities, but the steep terrain makes it not a good place to learn how to race.


Race clinics

Adults who want to learn how to race have two options on Baldy, both through the Sun Valley Snowsports School. One is the Masters Race clinic, held for three hours every weekday morning on the Warm Springs side of Baldy. Clinic participants learn the art of making a good race turn while freeskiing, then take their new skills to running gates on Hemingway or Cozy. Both slalom and giant slalom courses are set, though GS is more frequent. Racers can run super G on Lower Warm Springs every Thursday morning for an hour before the lifts open to the public. Many clinic participants say they signed up not because they plan to actually go in races, but just for the fun and challenge of learning. Most had almost no racing experience before signing up.

The second option is the Snowsport School’s Race Camp, which is similar to the clinic but only involves running gates and attracts more serious racers who participate in USSA Masters events. The Race Camp runs for two hours daily four days a week.

For more information on the clinic and camp, see

Greg Moore:

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