Do you know your ability on skis?

Downgrade yourself and you might never face those challenges that could make your skiing a more exciting and rewarding experience. To overrate yourself, on the other hand - as too many of us are inclined to do - will, sooner or later, get you into trouble, usually trying to keep up with some friends on a black diamond covered with moguls and cruddy snow with a storm whirling in.

Not actually knowing how you rate as a skier also can prove a mistake when you’re buying, or renting, skis and boots. For a low intermediate to buy a hot-looking ski for experts won’t make an expert out of him. It will make his skiing more difficult. An expert ski doesn’t forgive a mistake. The softer-flex ski for a low intermediate does.

There are several ways to evaluate your own ability on the slopes. One is to take lessons. A skilled instructor will need perhaps 30 seconds to evaluate your ability as you ski down the practice slopes.

Another is to test yourself in an amateur National Standard Race (NASTAR); these are offered by most ski areas. You pit yourself only against a top expert, not other skiers.

Here’s how NASTAR works: A ski racecourse, with all the paraphernalia - flags, poles, a starting platform, and an electronic timer - is set up on nothing more challenging than an intermediate run. An expert skier whose skill level has been rated at a national meeting of NASTAR pacesetters will run the course twice. His best time becomes the standard for that course on that particular day.

When you race the course, your time, with a handicap based on your age and sex factored in, is matched only against the expert’s, not those of other skiers.

If the pacesetter’s time is, by way of example, 35.6 seconds, and yours is 45.6, but you have a 10-second handicap, you’d “equal” the pacesetter’s time and win a gold medal.

You could also win a silver, a bronze, or nothing but a smile and an awareness of how well you’ve learned to ski.

A recommendation: If you enter a NASTAR race, it’s tremendously helpful to take the approximately one-hour-long NASTAR racing school that’s usually offered on days when races are scheduled.

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