Vail offers a great winter challenge to trail runners

Vail, Colorado will host the FIS Alpine World Championships next month sharing the stage with its ski neighbor Beaver Creek from February 2-15, 2015, but a lesser known event is gaining momentum after a seven year legacy in this pristine winter wonderland.

On Sunday, February 22, the 8th annual Vail Mountain Winter Uphill will be held, so strap on your traction devices and head to Vail to climb up a nearly two mile gut-busting and oxygen-depriving route which starts at just over 8,100 feet to a high point of more than 10,000 feet.

Says race director Ellen Miller, “Please note that this is not a “snowshoe” race. Most folks wear running shoes with stabilizers and some wear skis. If it snows a lot participants might wear snowshoes, but really, I don’t see too many at my race.”

Miller, who coaches athletes year-round primarily through the Vail Athletic Club, started the race with fellow Vailite Hooker Lowe, to pay homage to Lyndon Ellefson, a pioneer in the sport of mountain running, who lost his life in a 1998 accident near the Matterhorn while training for a mountain race in Italy.

“Through this race we can honor Lyndon and contribute to a sport he so loved,” said Miller who also serves as the women’s team manager for the U.S. Mountain Running Team.

One hundred percent of the entry fees from the race will be donated to the team through the non-profit American Trail Running Association. These funds are earmarked for the team to help defray the costs of traveling to the World Championships, and since the team, although an official USA Track & Field team, doesn’t yet receive full funding, the donations from Miller’s event make a huge impact for the athletes.

“Racing on snow is great winter season cross training for trail runners,” said Richard Bolt, team leader for the U.S. Mountain Running Team. “I’m excited to see the Vail Mountain Winter Uphill challenge runners and support a great cause – the hardworking athletes of the US Mountain Running Team.”

A percentage of the race proceeds will also be presented to the Vail Valley Athlete Commission, a fund which helps area athletes pursue their competitive endeavors on the World stage.

The race will begin at 7 a.m. in Lionshead, adjacent to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, and take runners, skiers, snowshoers and outdoor enthusiasts approximately 2,200 vertical feet up the groomed trails to Eagle’s Nest at the top of Vail Mountain.

With course records of 30:49 for the men, set by Rickey Gates in 2009, and 35:30 for women, set by Brandy Erholtz that same year, the pace is sure to be quick to try and eclipse these marks during this year’s event.

Registration is available online at this link, or on race-day until 6:30 a.m. near the start line. Race entry is $30 through February 21, and $40 on race-day.

Miller anticipates over 150 competitors. Be sure to register soon as the first 100 registrants receive an OutThere USA neck gator, Skoop products, and ski ties from AlpineQuest Sports. All registrants receive a full – and according to Miller, “delicious breakfast” – served at the top of Eagle’s Nest which will also host the post race awards ceremony.

Prizes will be distributed in both ski and non- ski categories by overall place and category by gender age group including 18 and under, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and 70 plus. In addition to the competitive awards, there will be an amazing array of raffle prizes. For non-competitive hikers, there will be a separated finish line with no timed results.

For more information, contact alpineellen@gmail.com or visit the event page on this website.

In 2016, the Vail Mountain Winter Uphill will again be part of the Winter Mountain Games which realizes a hiatus this year due to the FIS Alpine World Championships.