The Heathen Challenge, at Sunlight Mountain Jan. 15, has been nominated as the final selection race for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team. Racers climb up the East Ridge of Sunlight then ski down the infamous Heathen in a race that attracts the top winter endurance racers from all over the world.

Sunlight's Heathen Challenge is the second of nine races nationally as part of the United States Ski Mountaineering Association. The Colorado Ski Mountaineering chapter, COSMIC, spearheads the events held locally.

The official course for mountaineering professionals includes four climbs and descents. Skinning, boot-packing, kick-turning and technical descending challenges racers to the limits of technical mountaineering. A groomed run starts climbers up the first climb, followed by the second, third and fourth climbs entirely off-piste. Three full descents take part on The Heathen/Lower Defiance runs which are known for bumps and ruts through trees that only grow in size as the race trudges on.

Though this seems like an all-day affair, the winning time from 2010 was just under two hours. Race officials expect a more technically grueling course this year to take only slightly longer than last year's course.

"The challenges in the mountains have always cleansed my mind and soul," explains Chris Kroger, 2010 Heathen Challenge champion. "Traveling on skis gracefully, efficiently, smoothly through the high alpine country with many variables to negotiate - powder, steeps, avalanche terrain, cold weather, ridges, finding the correct route, are instrumental in my life."

An alternative recreational course for enthusiasts new to the sport sends racers up to the summit, back to the base, then up another shorter ascent for a final descent to the finish. There are several different categories to compete in depending on a racers ability and equipment.

Check out the USSMA website, if you think you have what it takes to challenge your ski mountaineering technique as well as your endurance. Information includes technique and training videos, equipment suggestions, plus race series dates and locations. If you think you have what it takes to challenge your ski mountaineering technique as well as your endurance.

More Information: USSMA; Heathen Challenge.