[R343R, Saddleback] Maine has a race for the hardy Saturday Feb. 28.

The Saddleback Mountain Challenge is a classic ski mountaineering race. The route gains 1,800 vertical feet, is over seven miles long, includes green, blue, black, and double black terrain and encompasses the entire skiing boundary of Saddleback Mountain.

"This is a monster of a race that will resonate with the sturdy, experienced ski mountaineer," Steve Prince of Saddleback said.

"Ski mountaineering is the earliest form of skiing. In the beginning of skiing there were no lifts to access alpine terrain. A few hardy souls would attach animal pelts to the bottom of their wooden skis to provide forward glide and backward grip. They would then climb to where they wished to ski, remove the ‘skins' and descend.

"Today, those hardy souls are called ski mountaineers. The animal pelts have been replaced by synthetics, the leather boots with plastic, and the wooden skis with space-age materials. The idea, however, is the same. There is a special satisfaction in accessing ski terrain by your own effort and determination," Prince said.

First-place finishers in the men's and women's divisions will receive a 2009-10 Saddleback Mountain Season Pass. There also are silver and bronze prizes, and all participants get a commemorative t-shirt, spaghetti dinner, and celebration in the fireplace room in Saddleback's base lodge.

Registration is 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on race day, Feb. 28. Fee is $25. No lift pass is required to enter the race. All competitors must have ski mountaineering equipment deemed appropriate by race officials.

Route scouting in advance is encouraged.

A map of the route is available online.