Hitting the slopes

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Nastar, the 32-year-old grass-roots program offering recreational skiers the chance to race one another on official downhill courses at ski areas, is boosting its rockets.

Operating under a new marketing program and with several new sponsors, Nastar is being relaunched to target a wider audience, while getting more involvement from the U.S. Ski Team.

As excitement builds toward the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City-the first Winter Games to be held in the U.S. since 1980-more sponsors are showing interest in skiing and snowboarding, and the U.S. Ski Team wants to use Nastar to help identify and develop the talent of promising young athletes.

NEW TITLE SPONSOR

General Motors Corp.'s Chevy Trucks has signed on as the title sponsor of the 1999-2000 program, which offers racing events to recreational skiers at more than 110 U.S. resorts. Canon, Charles Schwab & Co., Sprint Corp. and Visa USA have also come aboard as sponsors. Several more are expected to join the program later this year. Chevrolet, Schwab and Sprint are also sponsors of the U.S. Ski Team.

The revamped program includes more publicity about events; more involvement from individual ski resorts; and a new system allowing skiers to electronically compare their times with other racers, including checking daily results against participants nationwide through Nastar's Web site (nastar.

com).

Launched in 1968 by Ski magazine, the Nastar program was previously managed by Worldwide Ski Corp. of Aspen, Colo., but last year Ski reconfigured the event so it is jointly managed by Kaleidoscope Sports & Entertainment, New York, with assistance from Ski and the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association.

"The whole look and feel of Nastar is new, and there will be more direct connection between experts and amateurs during weekend events," said Tom Kelly, VP-public relations for the association, the governing body of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Teams.

U.S. Ski Team member Chad Fleischer will be the official pacesetter and spokesman for Nastar, appearing in a new series of multi-page print ads in sports magazines, and also at skiing events to promote Nastar. Other U.S. Ski Team members will participate in events and help promote the sport to weekend enthusiasts, said Mr. Kelly.

NEW SIGNAGE

Ski resorts participating in Nastar are getting new signage and banners, and in exchange most resorts are being asked to relocate their Nastar course so it is in the most prominent location on the mountain.

"Resorts have been great long-time supporters of Nastar, and we're giving them more tools to promote it, and helping them bring a greater value to visitors through improved Nastar activities," said John Arrix, senior VP-Kaleidoscope Sports.

Under the new arrangement, Kaleidoscope will manage Nastar for three years with an option to renew in 2002. Last year Kaleidoscope acquired Capital Sports, which had a long heritage in managing and marketing grass-roots skiing events.

"We think there's a second life waiting for Nastar, and the timing is good. We want to increase involvement at a lot of levels, and help resorts work together with the best in the sport to get more people competing, and hopefully to discover more diamonds in the rough who may become U.S. champions," Mr. Arrix said.

Nastar, for the first time, is adding snowboard races to its regular lineup of events this season.

MORE INTEREST

"We're getting a lot of interest from people who are just learning to ski and people who wanted to take things to the next level racing snowboards, so we expect overall participation to be up significantly this year," he added.

An estimated 100,000 people participated in Nastar's events last year.

Ski magazine is also increasing its participation in the program, including getting more on-site exposure at Nastar events.

"We're testing various new ways to acquire subscribers including signing people up who are skiing at Nastar events, plus generally promoting our brand at these events and the resorts," said Andy Clurman, publisher of Ski, which is owned by Times Mirror Magazines and boasts a circulation of 450,000.

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