Skier Exley earns berth in national championships

WHEELING – Sometimes life’s best moments come when they’re least expected.

Just ask Paul Exley.

The Wheeling resident ventured to Aspen, Colo., this past winter to partake in some of the region’s world-renowned skiing, but he never imagined he’d earn a berth in the 2010 NASTAR National Championships.

”I was there and decided to enter a race,” the 56-year-old Exley said. ”I raced twice and ended up with a decent time and qualified with a third.”

The brainchild of SKI Magazine 42 years ago, NASTAR (NAtional STAndard Race) is the largest recreational ski and snowboard race program in the world. It’s mission is to provide a racing program that, through the development of a handicap system, allows racers of all ages and abilities a means to compare their race results to other competitors across the country regardless of when and where they race.

For Exley, his home course is Oglebay. And even before he started skiing in NASTAR, Exley always called Oglebay his second home of sorts.

”I grew up skiing there back in the 1950s and 60s,” he said. ”I skied there all the way through grade school and high school.”

After graduating from Linsly in 1972, Exley enrolled at West Virginia University. But his love of skiing remained.

Exley joined WVU’s club team and competed against other club teams from the region at places like Seven Springs and Snowshoe.

”Before, my skiing was recreational,” Exley said. ”I never started racing until college.”

After he graduated from WVU in 1977 with a degree in physical education and exercise physiology, Exley turned his attention to NASTAR.

”It’s a national program where resorts all over the country – like Seven Springs – can have a NASTAR course,” Exley said.

”Courses have races you can enter on the weekends.

”When resorts open, they start racing through February. After that, you find who had the top three scores in each category and those people qualify for nationals.”

Exley said courses are set up similar to those seen during the Olympics.

”The courses are set up as a blend of slalom and giant slalom,” he said. ”You’re going close to 50 mph.”

Exley had qualified for nationals twice before, but this year was the first time he was able to attend.

But was he ready?

”I didn’t feel like I had a lot of training,” he said. ”I was very grateful to have Oglebay here and they set up a race course so I could practice.

”I did some training at the (Howard Long) Wellness Center and a lot of snow training at Oglebay,” said Exley, who had reconstructive shoulder surgery in 2001.

Yes, NASTAR competition is serious. In fact, the course for the 2010 National Championships was tougher on the older skiers, according to Exley.

”Actually, we were on a harder course than the 20 year-olds,” he said. ”It was steeper and a lot longer. The course was very icy and ruddy.”

No matter. Exley ended up with the 10th-best time out of about 50 competitors.

”I was excited,” he said of his finish. ”I would like to have done better. But it was a lot of fun competing against the best.”

Oglebay brought skiing back about six years ago. At that same time, Exley retired from his job with a regional pharmaceutical firm after 25 years and opened Alpine Skis and Board at the base of Oglebay Hill.

Exley would like to see NASTAR utilize Oglebay. But in the meantime he hopes younger skiers will use the facility to train for regional NASTAR events.

”That way they can qualify just like I did,” he said.