The start of the second annual VAC Vail Mountain Winter Uphill kicks off at 7 a.m. Feb. 21. Runners, skiers, and snowshoers will head up the race course which includes 2,000 feet of vertical gain from the 8,000-foot-base to the summit of Vail Mountain at Eagle's Nest at over 10,000 feet. The approximately two-mile course is on groomed ski trails.

The event is organized by Vail Valley locals Ellen Miller and Hooker Lowe to honor the memory of Vailite Lyndon Ellefson who died in 1998.

Ellefson was a foreman on the Eagle Bahn Gondola and was instrumental in starting the U.S. men's mountain running program and was a member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team which is one of the beneficiaries of race proceeds. The event is also a fundraiser for Jack's Place, a cancer caring house at the Shaw Cancer Center.

The inaugural event drew nearly 150 participants, and race organizers anticipate a larger field this year. "This is a great way for people to remember Lyndon while participating in an activity that was so special to him. This year we have invited members of the mountain team to participate in the event and share their experiences from the World Mountain Running Championships with the other competitors," said co-race director Ellen Miller.

A veteran of mountain running, Miller not only managed the Women's U.S. Mountain Running Team, but has climbed Mt. Everest from both approaches. Additionally, Miller developed and leads the "Mountain Divas" program at Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa's Vail Athletic Club, a sponsor of this race.

"I think it's awesome that Ellen is putting together a race that will act as a fundraiser for the U.S. Mountain Running Team," said Brandy Erholtz, top U.S. women's finisher for the 2008 Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team.

"Having funding for athletes allows our sport to be very competitive because it allows anyone and everyone to try out. When there was really great funding/sponsorship, the level of competitors, the number of races throughout the U.S., and number of competitors was huge. When we started losing funding/sponsorship, all those numbers dropped drastically. Now, there is no funding at all. There are only a handful of summer biathlon races in the U.S., and very few competitors. It is really amazing how much funding can make a difference."

"Through this event, we all reflect on happy times with Lyndon and keep his memory alive in our hearts," said Nancy Hobbs, manager of the mountain team and Executive Director of the American Trail Running Association.

The uniqueness of the event is evident in the varied categories of participation. Athletes will "pick their grip" when registering for the event. The categories include Open - running shoes, stabilizers, or snowshoes are permitted; Track Skis - any light weight ski equipment; and Heavy Metal - heavy metal edged skis including Telemark gear. Registrants receive a post race party with breakfast at Eagle's Nest, T-shirt, awards, and prizes. Prizes will be awarded 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.

Online registration is now available.

It is also available onsite at the Vail Athletic Club, or on race morning until 6:30 a.m. at the Chop House Restaurant located at the base of the Lionshead Gondola.

Arrive early to sign the Vail Resorts event waiver in addition to the entry form waiver. Race entry is $35 through Feb. 20 and $40 race day.