The annual zaniness known as the Al Johnson Memorial Uphill/Downhill Telemark Ski Race returns to Crested Butte March 22 for the 35th go-round.

The Al Johnson, which is conducted in the memory of a local late-19th century mail carrier who did his 17-mile route on skis, is a unique event. It begins with a mass start of about 200 men and women racers near the top of Mt. Crested Butte.

The course then climbs 600 vertical feet to the top of a ridge, then plunges 1,200 feet through extreme skiing terrain. There is only one control point: a gate at the top of the uphill section. After passing this point, the racers may choose any route to reach the finish gate which is located at the bottom of the Last Steep.

What makes this event challenging is that it must be raced on free-heel telemark skis. The rules require each contestant finish with both skis and poles, even if broken (many participants have had to carry irreparable equipment across the finish line). What also adds to the fun and uniqueness of the Al Johnson is that the majority of the racers dress in some sort of costume for the race.

There are two race formats: The Tag-Team Fun Race, which begins at noon, and the men's and women's individual event. There also will be an awards party cum raffle at 4 p.m. at Butte 66 at the resort base area.