Nastar Magic

One fine Monday, I found myself out skiing with my kids. Or, dare I say, out-skied by my kids.  I’m pretty fast, when I want to be, but on this day, I felt like I was skiing in  molasses. This, friends, is not to say the snow conditions were not perfect. They were. Therein lay part of the problem. So lovely was the snow, so bluebird the day, my kids were zooming around the hill like Mario Andretti on a country road—or at least how I imagine a racecar driver would take a country road.

None of this, by the way, is said by way of complaint. It is a point of pride that my kids engage with this sport, and love it as much as their parents do. And, I’m telling you, this is the year our family ski days turned a corner (if I’m to drag that racecar metaphor out for another go-round). No longer are we enduring endless laps on Wide West. Gone are the days of one-run-and-done. Our family can take a trip down nearly any intermediate run without hesitation.

So, when we took some laps off of Flagstaff Mountain, and then Bald Mountain, I was in my glory. Except for the fact that they were moving so quickly (sometimes in a little tuck), that I was in constant “worried mother” mode. It wasn’t that I needed to ski fast to keep up, it was that it was nearly impossible to “hover and sweep” to protect them from other skiers who may not expect pint-sized Speed Racers, however well-skilled they may be.

As I chased them down Birdseye ski run, delighted by their enthusiasm for the run, I wondered, “What if I could channel this energy, this need for speed?”

Would it shock you to learn that my boys were, ahem, ahead of me?

“Mom! Look! It’s the Nastar Course! May we race, please?”

What if, indeed.

I raced NASTAR as a kid—it’s a grass-roots public recreational ski race program. The largest in the world, as a matter of fact. And I remember the thrill of coming down the course off the “Triple Chair” run at Pico, and hearing my name called. My kids have run the Deer Valley Nastar course before, along with courses at other resorts, but they wanted to show off for me.

Race

This, friends, was a boon. A boon, I tell you. Not only did they do laps on this course, but I got to do a couple of quick runs down Little Reb ski run, solo, to wait for them at the bottom. Fewer more lovely words were ever spoken, at least on that day, than “Wait for them at the bottom.” Here, they could ski fast, to their hearts’ content, and I could simply enjoy watching them. No other skiers on the course, except my cute boys. Even the announcer got in on the game, “Here’s Lance and Seth, and their Mom at the bottom taking pictures for future Facebook posts,” he called out on the first run.

The fun thing is, we got to ski together before and after each run. Because, of course, one boy earned a medal, and we had to go to the top of the course to collect it. Then, the other wanted to try for a medal, and then they both earned medals, and we had to go back up to the top of the course and collect them. So, we’d ski down McHenry ski run to the Wasatch chairlift, ride it up, ski Birdseye or Nabob ski runs down to the top of the course, and repeat the process. Finally, after three races, I called the Costanza Rule, and declared it time to find our way to the car. “You can race more for Daddy this weekend,” I said, explaining that we’d be back as a foursome in a few short days.

And then, we were off to Little Stick ski run, and I was back on Mommy Patrol. Hilariously, there were several skiers on the trail who identified my plight. “You just have to hope,” one woman said, helpfully, as she watched me attempt to keep my kids safe. “Wow! They are great!” said another couple, navigating the bottle neck at the bottom of the first section of Little Stick. “Thanks!” I shouted over my shoulder. “You should see them race!”

Bringing Home Gold from Down Under

DSC_9382Stephani Victor is a 5-time Paralympic Medalist and World Champion. She will be sharing her experiences on the road as the clock counts down to the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Not everyone has Alpine World Cup racing on his or her mind at the start of August, but I did as we headed to New Zealand and Australia for the opening World Cup races.  It seems like just yesterday I was sitting on the deck at Royal Street Café enjoying my summer favorite, the Asian Grilled Chicken salad, and mentally packing my winter ski clothing.  I have trained in New Zealand with the team many times in the past, but World Cup racing “Down Under” would be a first.

The top of the ski area in Coronet Peak overlooking Queenstown.

The top of the ski area in Coronet Peak overlooking Queenstown.

Our World Cup circuit began just outside the tranquil waterfront village of Queenstown at Coronet Peak Ski Area with two Slalom races as part of the Audi Quattro New Zealand Winter Games line-up.  After my Paralympic Slalom win in the 2006 Torino Olympic Games, I have had a bit of a reputation for being a Slalom specialist, but even I had no expectations of winning on the first day or at all.  We just hoped I’d make the podium and start the season off with a good feeling.  New Zealand had reported their warmest winter ever and although the snow coverage started out well in June, by the time we arrived early August the base depth was dwindling.  If it weren’t for the freezing temperatures overnight, we may not have had any racing at all.  The steep T-lift access to the top of the racecourse made me long for the comfortable chairlift rides in the Wasatch.  Being on an island, in the Southern hemisphere in the middle of our summer looking at the sun on the what feels like the wrong side of the sky results in a less than comfortable feeling for ski racing (which in my mind was a great preparation for the Paralympic Games in Sochi less than 200 days away).  Unlike the beautiful corduroy groomers I am so fond of early morning on Big Stick, the snow under foot sounded more like metal grinding on metal because it hardly resembled snow, it was blank ice.  Fortunately, I was taught by my coach (and husband) to love all conditions both snow and weather.  “Skiing is outside” he would say which meant “deal with it.” The sun was warm and the visibility great.  From the top of the racecourse I looked out over the valley and took in the views of the other mountaintops in background hovering over beautiful Queenstown and the lake.  I thought to myself “I am in New Zealand!  Racing!” and I pushed out of the start with such excitement it was as if I was beginning my first season and not my last.

Queenstown Award CeremonyI have had the great privilege of being a member of Team USA for 12 years.  I have competed in three Paralympic Games starting in Salt Lake City (incredible to race at home), and I have exceeded my performance at every Paralympics by finishing with my best Games ever in Vancouver (2010) where I won the first Gold medal in the Super Combined and took home two silvers in Giant Slalom and Slalom.  How could I possibly top that in Sochi?  Well, for my last Games I am going to give it all I have.  For me nothing has been more important than the support of my loyal friends and sponsors who are there for me to shake off the disappointments and celebrate with me in times of victory.

Mt Hutt ski area before the Super Combined race.

Mt Hutt ski area before the Super Combined race.

I won all four of the World Cup races in New Zealand, two Slalom races in Coronet Peak followed by a Super G and Super Combined in Mt Hutt.  For all the hours I discussed with my sports psychologist how to build confidence, I learned that “winning” World Cup races really helped!

IMG_0520#1I never get tired of hearing the National Anthem and it really means something to know that your athletic performance is the reason why you are hearing it.  Each time the American flag was raised and the song began to play I would close my eyes and beam my gratitude and thanks all around me.  Grateful that I have not lived my life “confined to a wheelchair” as I was originally diagnosed after my accident.  Grateful that I am healthy, strong and able to compete with and sometimes win against people much younger than me.  Grateful that my husband is my coach and continues to share this wonderful journey that takes us to every corner of the globe…. to SKI!

Marcel and Stephani

Top of the ski area in Thredbo Ski Area, Australia.

Top of the ski area in Thredbo Ski Area, Australia.

Next stop was Thredbo, Australia for four more World Cup races.  Please know in advance I spent five hours a day 5-days a week (sometimes six) this summer working with my athletic trainer, Adam Friedman, in Gold’s Gym in preparation for this season.  Training pays off.  You have to train strength, conditioning, skiing and your mind.  Ski races are won by hundredths of a second and your mental edge may be your best skier’s edge.  We landed in Sydney and had two beautiful days off in the city to explore and coincidently celebrate my birthday.  How wonderful to bask in the sun on Manly Beach and rest in preparation for our next race series.  We drove six hours southeast towards Thredbo and it was very apparent we were in a different world, even different from the island world of New Zealand.  Not only was it the hottest winter in New Zealand, Australia shared the same warm winter record.  We arrived in the Jindabyne Sport Reaction Center which looked more like a cross between a campground and an army basic training facility but it would be our home for the next week.  All the teams from around the world were stationed in various cabins around the campus sharing the same dining hall, tuning rooms and outdoor track. The people there hardly seemed like ski racers in their tank tops and gym shorts roaming the grounds looking for Kangaroos.  I couldn’t imagine we would see a Kangaroo much less have a family hop right past our front door, but they did!

DSC_9822The best time to see a Kangaroo is at dusk or sunrise and little did we know we would be up before the Kangaroos to make our World Cup races happen.  Up at 4 a.m., I would do my morning warm-up routine of Kundalini yoga, eat breakfast and load the vans.  Driving in the pitch dark up to ski area my teammates and I shared the task of looking for Kangaroos on the side of the road like deer.  They tend to jump out in the road and freeze like a “kangaroo in headlights” (maybe that will catch on).

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 5.30.53 PM - Version 2Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 1.47.08 PMAt the base the snow looked thin, okay you could see patches of dirt and some runs no one bothered to do anything more than let the grass grow.  But the World Cup race run started at the summit and to our surprise, a whopping 2,000 meters in elevation. We would have to start the inspection in the dark, loading the chairlift at 6:30 a.m. and start the race at 7:30 a.m. to finish the race before the sun turned everything to mashed potatoes.  All the racers were willing to start early and thank goodness it froze at night other wise as we discovered on the last day, the racing would not happen.

DSC_98967 medals Austalia World CupFull of confidence and excitement I raced the first Giant Slalom as if I had nothing to lose.  I didn’t expect to win, how could I keep this winning streak going?  But I did; I won all three of the three World Cup races in Australia to bring home a total of seven gold medals and memories to last a lifetime.  I am so infused with energy and excitement for this season.  It is the truth, I am fortunate to ski all over the world but every time I come home, I know I have arrived at the best place on earth.  I can’t wait to ski in Park City!

Ski Racing Momma

IMG_3484I was a race mom again this past weekend and it was great! I think the best part of the weekend race was seeing Lucas aka “Billy Goat” hobble up to the start on crutches to get his little brother organized. He didn’t think I could help (so be it). You can see in the pictures Stefan listened to his brother and big brother was right there cheering him on.

IMG_3488Lucas has had a great attitude even though he has been benched for a few weeks due to his broken leg. All he says every day is, “I want to ski”.  Always having a positive attitude will pay off in the end.

IMG_3848Lucas will be on the slopes soon and the brothers will be back to challenging one another. Ohh the joys of having boys! They just don’t realize Mom can still play.

See you on the slopes!

World Cup and Being a Finish Line Mom

IMG_6192The 2013 FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup events just finished up at Deer Valley Resort and it reminded me of the good old days.

Frankly, I’m happy not to be in the position of these athletes- in front of a home crowd and wanting to perform to your best. Don’t get me wrong, I know they want to get their personal best of the season, but there is something about competing at home that puts some added pressure on the whole performance. I’m sure they love competing at home, but they would be lying if they say it’s easy. It’s easy that you might get to sleep in your own bed, eat your favorite food and see friends and family that you’ve missed because you’ve been traveling- but that’s why there is an extra bit of heat.

You want to show everyone your best. Sometimes I think athletes might forget (take it from experience), to just focus on the performance and not the outcome. I know how it feels when you want to podium and instead get fourth at home or a top 10 finish. It can be disappointing, but everyone is still proud to see the US athletes compete!

IMG_6835So great job everyone!

Besides watching the next generation of athletes perform, I have another hat. I’m also a finish line Mom. I’m finally in my Mom’s seat- a seat where she watched so many races for her four children. She never skied so that’s why she was always at the finish line, doing the “come to momma.”  Do I get nervous watching my own children, the same as competitors on the World Cup? I would be lying if I said, “no”. It is a bit of a thrill, and I get a few butterflies at this point (my boys are only eight and 11), but, mostly because I want them to have fun. I remember so many times calling my Mom in tears. I just don’t want them to have to experience that, but I’m sure it’s inevitable!

Whether it’s my own children or my friend’s child, it hurts to see disappointment. Hopefully, I can fill my Mom’s shoes and show that results aren’t everything. Yes, they help and are fun, but in the BIG picture there is always something you can gain by just giving your best. Something you don’t realize or understand until you’re out of the “competition world”.

Heidi's son, Stefan, competing

Heidi’s son, Stefan, competing

I also try and make a point when I am at my son’s races to be low key. I missed my son Stefan’s first race this season. Many people said to me, “Oh you must be so bummed!”  Not really, because I know there will be plenty more! But, I know when I am there it’s a bit like the World Cup athletes competing at home. Mom always brings a bit of extra pressure not from my expectations, but other people assuming I’m watching with a fine comb. Although… I did reserve this coming Saturday to watch Stefan race!

Unfortunately for Lucas we won’t know if he gets to race at all this season until February 14 when his cast comes off. But, he will get on skis before the end of the season. That day will bring a smile to him and me. I bet I will have “Mom’s hat” on saying, “go slower”, “take it easy”, “let’s not make too many runs”, but I have a feeling Lucas will take off dancing on his skis!

Congrats to all of the World Cup competitors, volunteers and Deer Valley for putting on a showcase event!

See you on the slopes!

NASTAR National Pacesetting

Its official, the 2012-13 winter season has started with a bang! First, the Celebrity Skifest events, which were followed by the big three-day snowstorm that dropped enough snow to ski the Daly Chutes in Empire.

Most recently, I participated in the NASTAR pacesetting trials at Snowmass.  I go to the national pacesetting trials in order to get a handicap for Deer Valley’s NASTAR racing course. By doing this I can give handicaps to the race crew and I set the pace time every Saturday so it’s as if you’re racing against AJ Kitt who is the NASTAR National Pacesetter.

The NASTAR national pacesetting trials consist of three days of ski races, seeing old athlete friends and ski racing fans.  Of course there is a lot of skiing involved while we are at Snowmass, but there is also time to catch up and recap old time stories.

Bobkie

Bobkie at NASTAR

This picture is me with AJ Kitt, Bobkie (Aka Bob Roll, the Tour de France color commentator and long-time professional bike racer!), my friend Ivan and his son Nicholas. If you think I look as if I never skied before but that’s because I’m having too much fun and not thinking about skiing, my form or even my crooked goggles!

NASTAR Pacestting crew

NASTAR Pacestting crew

But of course, the best part of the pacesetting trials are the ski races and trying to set your best time. Each year, I am reminded that NASTAR is a huge part of skiing culture. It was great to see Ivan’s 10-year-old son skiing so well and enjoying watching everyone else. I can only image he was hoping that someday maybe he’ll be the fastest.

If you’ve never experienced NASTAR, come to race Deer Valley’s race arena at Silver Lake or to any NASTAR course at participating ski areas.  A full list and more info can be found at NASTAR.com.

You’ll get hooked and want to come to the finals with us in the spring! Race fast and most importantly have fun. Ski racing and the NASTAR program has blessed me with the best friendships and memories!

See you on the slopes!

My Favorite Deer Valley Things (part 1)

Working at the resort over the last couple of weeks, I have been quickly reminded why Deer Valley has been voted the # 1 ski resort in North America for the last four years in a row.

When I meet a new client, we arrange to find each other at the Snow Park Guest Service Information Desk. The Info Desk is where our guests can check with Lost and Found or ask any questions.  I usually try and get to the lobby 15 minutes before our scheduled meeting time. After 14 years I have realized that new clients are usually nervous and don’t know what to expect, so these few early moments take the edge off.  So over the course of a few days while waiting in the Snow Park Guest Services area, I have witnessed a guest asking if his glove was turned in. He was not lucky in finding his glove but instead the guest service employee offered to let him borrow a pair of gloves that had been in the Lost and Found for a month. A woman left her cell phone in the bathroom and someone had picked it up. Guest Services allowed her to use the phone to call her cell and the guest who was on her way to turn it in answered and they arranged the trade off. Many guests asked simple questions, such as the bus schedule, where the bathrooms are, where the ticket office was, and how to get to child care. I saw each guest walk away with a smile because our guest services employees answered the question with more information than they were expecting. Most of the guests then chatted for a few minutes with our employees because they made them feel so comfortable. 

Here are a few of “my favorite things” at Deer Valley:

Complimentary ski storage during the day and overnight. How great is it to put your skis away and walk to the car and not have to worry about carrying them up again the next morning. This gives you time to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the morning (especially if you have kids and negotiating who is going to carry what).

Besides our skiing (which speaks for itself), the on mountain dining is exceptional. Imagine skiing and having to decide and actually contemplate where you want to eat. This is a nice problem to have while recreating. My favorites are: Empire Canyon Lodge for the Turkey Panini, Royal Street Café’s Tuna Tacos, Silver Lake Lodge’s Bald Mountain Pizza for their mushroom Pasta and last but not least, Snow Park Restaurant’s Natural Buffet.

Of course, you must fit in the NASTAR course before lunch. If you take any of my suggestions of where to eat you’ll definitely have a full stomach which will only make it harder to beat my time at the race arena! I set the time every Saturday morning (schedule permitting). I got my NASTAR handicap at the pacesetting trials this past December in Aspen and have handicapped the race crew at Deer Valley. What this means is, when you race NASTAR you’re actually racing against AJ Kitt who is the National NASTAR handicapper. You get to see how close you can get to former Olympic Alpine Ski Racer. Racing NASTAR and trying to better your time is a lot of fun! You can also try to qualify for the NASTAR finals or just race head to head with your friends.

Come experience the Deer Valley difference. We all enjoy seeing our guests on the mountain and want to help make your time here the best. I always look forward to going to work, that is a strong statement in itself! Stay tuned for my next blog which will be all about my favorite spots to ski.

Happy New Year and see you on the slopes!

Heidi’s Ski Season Countdown

There are only 16 days left until we open…but who’s counting! We kick off the season on December 4 and will be hosting the Celebrity SkiFest on Birdseye ski run.  I will be one of the Pros competing in the race. The event will air on December 5 on CBS at 5pm EST. There is nothing like racing right out the gate cold turkey. Hopefully my 26 years of racing gates will be automatic. It’s only Tommy Moe, Phil Mahre and Steve Mahre who are racing anyway! Hmmmmm, not bad company.


Am I ready for another winter?? Of course I’m ready to ski and am hoping for lots of powder.

How have I gotten ready for the ski season? Nothing like how I did when I was competing for the US Ski Team because that only added lbs. to my frame. I think everyone has their own way to get in shape. There is no right or wrong as long as you exercise. I have enjoyed my road bike, hiking and started back into running! There is nothing better than just getting back on skis and working those muscles that don’t fire during the summer months. Oh the soreness after the first couple of days. Skiing is the best way to get in shape for skiing!

See you on the slopes