"I don’t know how comfortable I feel about him being so interested and passionate and intense, at 6 years old. I don’t want him to have gray hair at 18, so I kind of worry.”
Drake Masters with dad Dustin Masters and mom Stephanie Mullins-Masters. Photo courtesy of Camara Photography, Dave Camara
Drake Masters is flashy.
He enjoys collecting achievement pins for his ski racing, and his medals, including two gold and a silver from the NASTAR National Championships in March, hang above his black-and-white Frontosa fish named Jaguar, off the tips of his first pair of skis. When he races, he sports pinks, oranges and, of course, the brightest of all colors, yellow.
Stephanie Mullins-Masters is not flashy.
She favors monochromatic colors, and she wrestles with the accolades, titles and labels that accompany her son’s overwhelming ski-racing success.
Drake, after all, is 6 years old.
“I do my best to kind of temper it, just because kids and sports can be really positive but can also be really negative,” she says. “I’m really trying to find other things he’s interested in, but I haven’t been successful at that yet. I don’t know how comfortable I feel about him being so interested and passionate and intense, at 6 years old.
“I don’t want him to have gray hair at 18, so I kind of worry.”
Drake Masters competing at the 2018 NASTAR National Championships. Photo courtesy of Camara Photography, Dave Camara
Stephanie and her husband Dustin moved to Colorado about a dozen years ago, when she was determined to pursue a career in fisheries biology. Though she isn’t on that career path anymore, she and Dustin enjoy outdoor activities such as backpacking and fly-fishing. Dustin is also an avid hunter.
Or he was, until his 2½-year old son approached with a crazy idea: Drake wanted to ski.
“It was really weird,” Stephanie recalls. “He didn’t watch TV at that age, and my husband and I would have never said anything about skiing. I have no idea where he saw it, or heard about it. I told him, ‘I’ll look into it.’ ”
Stephanie informed her son that he couldn’t take lessons until he was 4, assuming that he would become distracted by other interests.
But Drake persisted in asking to take ski lessons.
“We just ran out of excuses,” she says.
Both Stephanie and Dustin had skied before, though neither were all that passionate about the sport. In fact, Stephanie hadn’t had fun when she had done it.
Then the whirlwind commenced.
After doing some research, Stephanie enrolled Drake in lessons at Ski Cooper, a small, independently-owned resort about two hours southwest of Denver. After just the fifth lesson, Drake’s instructor approached Stephanie and Dustin.
“Drake has a natural ability,” Stephanie recalls the instructor telling them, “and you might want to consider signing him up for some GS in the future.”
Stephanie and Dustin both smiled and nodded for a few moments.
“Then we were like, ‘OK, we don’t know what that is …’ My husband and I being completely ignorant about the sport,” Stephanie says, “we didn’t know what he was talking about, so he had to explain it to us.”
GS stands for Giant Slalom, a skiing discipline that involves skiing between sets of specifically-placed gates down the slope of a mountain.
Skiing, however, is an expensive sport, and Stephanie and Dustin were thankful to find the NASTAR program. Developed by SKI Magazine in 1968, NASTAR stands for the National Standard Race and is the largest public grassroots ski race program in the world, with 165,000 participants at 115 resorts worldwide.
Kurt Glaser has coached Drake, and he says NASTAR creates a relaxing environment, with short and friendly courses to foster a love of skiing in young racers.
“It’s cost-effective and rewarding to see immediate results,” Glaser says. “My family has raced with NASTAR for more than five years.”
Drake particularly enjoys his NASTAR runs at Copper Mountain, where the staff are friendly and helpful. Drake, with his propensity for flashy, likes hearing his name, his blazing time and the quick and cool comment the announcers make about him. NASTAR also provides him a chance to meet some of the legends in the sport.
“I get goosebumps thinking about how good the folks of NASTAR have been to our family and have helped us figure out this ski racing thing,” she says. “There’s an elitism around ski racing, and the race programs are super expensive. I don’t know how long — financially — we’ll be able to let him on a club team. But NASTAR will be there for him forever.”
Drake Masters atop the podium after winning gold in the Platinum Division Giant Slalom at the 2018 NASTAR National Championships. Photo courtesy of Camara Photography, Dave Camara
KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
In a NASTAR video about him, Drake zips around on his skis, clearly having a blast.
“I love ski racing because I go fast,” he says in the video.
An only child, Drake revels in each run he can take. His parents aren’t novices (“We’re not wedging down the mountain,” Stephanie says), but Stephanie does avoid the moguls and more daunting terrain.
Still, skiing wouldn’t be her first choice activity.
“Last year, I was burned out,” she says. “I was really ready for summer.
“I can admit when I’m packing my bag that there’s a little internal grumbling, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go today.’ But once we’re there, I feed off his energy,” she says. “I love watching him ski, and I like hearing him talk about it. I like being with him out there, because I know he’s having fun. That changes my whole thought process about it.”
Stephanie and Dustin really enjoy team sports, but they discovered that Drake isn’t interested in “ball sports.” So this past summer, Drake participated in swimming.
“He had a lot of fun swimming, but … ”
As summer turned toward fall, Drake asks, “How much longer? How much longer?”
Glaser says Drake’s commitment is palpable.
“Drake stands out because he never misses a practice, never complains about the weather and always wants to do more,” Glaser says. “Drake is incredibly enthusiastic about skiing.”
On a recent day, Drake overhears his mother talking about his stylish wardrobe. A growing boy, he’ll need to update what he’ll wear, and his orange helmet — which the family bought because it was on sale — needs to be replaced.
“I love pink,” Drake yells from across the room.