Racing bib in place, you slip into the starting gate. Thirty second to go, fear stikes: "Why am I doing this? This is absurd! I'm just a weekend skier."

But the countdown begins. "Three - two - one . . . Go!" shouts the starter. Your poles bite and chop in what will forever seem too slow a start. But the race is underway and fear was left at the starting gate.

The terrain rushes at you. Attack the slope before it attacks you, a racer's creed; this is the giant slalom.

You reach and pass the first gate. The second turn. Okay, try for the third. Up off your edges and carving down into the fourth you drive your knees to the tips of your skis. Only a few more turns and the finish line is in sight.

Through the last turn - with visions of Jean Claude-Killy dancing in your head - you go into a tuck, weight back, speeding through the timing light, you break the beam and stop the clock.

Not so back. Suddenly you're aware of the quiet and are relieved.

This is NASTAR - National Standard Race. The NASTAR program is solely for recreational skiers. To encourage competition, NASTAR uses a handicap system of scoring that puts professional and recreational skiers on an equal footing. The difficulty of comparing skiers of different abilities and in differnet races across the country is overcome by relying on a point system rather than on who actually has the fastest time. The point system also allows each racer to chart his or her progress.

NASTAR is the 10-year-old brainchild of Ski Magazine. Today the NASTAR program - with the guidance of Worldwide Ski Corporation and sponsored by schlitz, Pepsi-Cola, Bonne Bell and Datsun - is run at about 90 ski resorts, nationwide, "NASTAR's success" according to its marketing director, Peter Kirkpatrick, "is due to incrased marketing sophistication at the ski areas."

Kirkpatrick believes "ski areas have found more ways to make NASTAR a profit-making venture and, as a result, they have become more interested in the program."

Here's how the program works.Each participating ski area sends a professional skier from its staff to pace-setting trials. The winer of these trials becomes the national "zero handicap pace-setter." All the other professionals participating in NASTAR are handicapped according to the national "zero handicap pace-setter."

When a ski area sets up a course, the professional who participated in the trial at that particular course runs the course first to set the pace. Because snow conditions change, the pro runs the course each day of the races so that the pace changes according to snow conditions. The daily pace in conjuntion with the professional's handicap computed against your time in conjuntion with your handicap, fits into a formula for comparing your performance to your past performance anywhere, or to that of any other skier in any other race at any other time or place.

ALL NASTAR races are on giant slalom courses where the gates, or flags, are spread out. All courses are set on intermediate terrain. There are no difficult tight turns as a regular slalom course, and there is no uncontrolled speed as there often is on a downhill course. Giant slalom, slalom and downhill are the three types of Alpine ski racing.

To enter a NASTAR race, you simply go to a participating ski area on the day of the NASTAR race, register when you arrive (well before the race), pay two or three dollars and go race. Your handicap is figured from your performance record that starts with your first race.

NASTAR races in this area will be held at Blue Knob in Pennsylvania every Saturday and Sunday starting at 12:30 p.m., at Masanutten in Virginia every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. (may change to 11 a.m.), at Bryce Mountain in Virginia every Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 p.m., and at Snowshoe in West Virginia every Thursday, Friday, and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Medals and prizes are awarded.