Austin skier wins NASTAR title

Published 7:45 pm Friday, April 1, 2011

Mary Nelson didn’t ski as much this year as she has in the past, but this year was quite different. She brought home a gold medal from the NASTAR National Championship.

That’s because she was lucky enough to ski at Winter Park, Colorado, during a week-long vacation in February, 2011 — the same location as NASTAR, held March 24 to 27. Each day Nelson skied in February, she raced and earned gold pins, which earned her a spot at the Nature Valley NASTAR National Championship in March — the largest recreational ski and snowboard race program in the world.

People were surprised when they heard Nelson won gold in her age 55-59 gold division. Last year she competed and placed fifth, but even Nelson is still surprised about her success this year.

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“I have to pinch myself,” she said. “It was like: It really happened!”

Nelson skied on some hills as high as 12,000 feet, which she said was challenging without being accustomed to it. The professional-like atmosphere, watching herself on jumbo-trons, hearing her name called on loudspeakers and skiing among 1,300 other competitors of all ages was very humbling for Nelson. To her, perhaps the icing on the cake was the fact that former Olympic and World Cup skier A.J. Kitt was the pace setter for her event.

“I think that’s very cool,” she said.

For winning, Nelson also got to compete the final day against all the other champions in every age group. She was roughly 1.2 seconds off the top pace after subtracting her handicap, which put her in 11th place out of dozens of competitors.

But the whole experience and success wasn’t a fluke, either. Nelson has been skiing since she was about 5 years old, and the sport runs in her blood. Her father, Bud Johnson, skied into his 80s and got the whole family into it.

Now, Nelson makes the most out of every time she skis. She’s happy she always saw skiing as a “treat,” and she knew she had to work to pay for it. Nelson’s also happy her husband, Mike, supports her hobby, which has allowed her to compete in various events throughout the years.

Now Nelson looks forward to her next event, The Ride Across Minnesota bike ride in July that will weave through Austin.