Some 200 backcountry skiers will set off from Crested Butte on the annual trek known as the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse at the stroke of midnight of March 27, or shortly thereafter in the early a.m. of March 28.

About seven to nine hours later - depending on weather and snow conditions - the first intrepid team of two skiers will descend into the town of Aspen, having skied some 40 backcountry miles on a route that went up and over two formidable gaps in the Rocky Mountain, one of which is the 12,303-foot high Star Pass.

This rugged wilderness race, which will have its 12th incarnation this month, is a re-incarnation/celebration of the famed mail carriers who plied these same Elk Mountains terrain in the late 19th century.

It's become a local rite of passage. So much so that the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse - a.k.a., an extraordinary backcountry skiing race - has regularly sold out its allotted 100 spots of 2-person teams months before the event.

However, if you have a hankering to get into this year's race, check out the bulletin board at the event's Web site; there are often slots available that have been given up by registered participants for various reasons.

Or you can wait until Dec. 1, when registration opens for the 2010 race.