Four ski mountaineering races are scheduled this winter in New England, at Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Saddleback Maine, and Magic Mountain.

The races are mass starts, with a course that goes uphill and down, where competitors spread out naturally over the first mile, and then go at their own pace through the course.

Races are: Jan. 30, 5th Annual Jay Peak Randonee Race, Jay Peak, Vermont; Feb. 7, Mountain Hardware Ski Mountaineering Race, which starts at Mad River Glen and ends at Sugarbush, Vermont; Feb. 27, Saddleback Maine Mountain Challenge, Saddleback, Maine; and March 6, Magic Mountain Spring Rando Race, Magic Mountain, Vermont.

The races are sponsored by the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association, which offers this advice:

"Events are similar to local mountain bike race or fun run. Once the start gun goes off, the race spreads out and everyone goes their own pace. There's nobody in the woods r on the mountain early in morning to see how slow (or fast) you're going - so don't worry about how you'll do. Just look forward to powder skiing and getting in some good exercise.

"Make a day out of it. Most events include a lift ticket (or give you a discounted ticket option), so bring the family and friends and ski after. The raffle is usually the highlight - so stick around to win something. And many a great next-day backcountry tour has been planned with beer in hand waiting for the raffle/awards.

"Pick a category: If it's your first race and you're unsure of your fitness and/or your gear, enter the Rec category; average vertical is 2,000 to 2,500 feet with two uphills and three transitions. The average participant will be out between 1:20 and 2.5 hours.

"If you've been skiing and skinning often and would like a longer race, enter the Heavy Metal Race or Race Category: 4,000 - 5,500 vertical. If you have lighter gear and want to race against faster people, the Race Category is for you. The winner will finish between 1.5 - 2 hours, the average participant 2.5 - 3.5 hrs."

There's more on the USSMA Web site, but you get the idea.

More information.