Local legacies live on through Vail Mountain Winter Uphill
VAIL — Leave it to a national cross-country ski champion to race up Vail Mountain on skate skis. Local athlete Sylvan Ellefson did just that during one of his two past ascents of the Vail Mountain Winter Uphill.
“It’s a fun event because you’re going uphill, you’re working hard for yourself and you’re out there to have fun,” he said. “As much as racing up the mountain at 7 o’clock in the morning might not seem like fun, it is.”
Now in its eighth year, the Vail Mountain Winter Uphill pays tribute to Ellefson’s father, Lyndon, a U.S. Mountain Running Team athlete who died in 1998 after a crevasse fall during a training session in Italy.
“When we first heard about the Uphill, I was absolutely honored that it was in recognition of my dad,” Ellefson said.
The event on Sunday is organized annually by Ellen Miller and Hooker Lowe, who both competed with Lyndon in mountain running.
“Lyndon was also a foreman of the Lionshead gondola, so we were thinking of a way to make a tribute to him, to our buddy, with mountain running, with the gondola, with this community,” said Miller, a local endurance coach and women’s team manager for the U.S. Mountain Running Team.
Ellefson said he can’t compete this year because the timing conflicts with a ski race but that he is looking forward to participating in the Uphill again and hopefully having a bigger part in it.
All entry fees collected will benefit the Vail Valley Foundation’s Athlete Commission and the U.S. Mountain Running Team.
“I am really happy to see that they have turned it into a fundraiser for the U.S. Mountain Running Team and for the Vail Valley Foundation,” Ellefson said. “The VVF has been one of my biggest sponsors, so I think to give back to that foundation is absolutely huge. And to help grow funding for the U.S. Mountain Running Team is also very important — my dad would have loved that.”
Race for the generations
Vail-born Mandy Ortiz is a sophomore on the University of Colorado cross-country running team. Ortiz ran for Battle Mountain High School and is the 2013 World Junior Mountain Running Champion and placed fourth at the 2014 championships. She is the daughter of Michael Ortiz and Anita, a professional mountain and ultra-runner.
Ortiz said the VVF helped fund her trips to and from the World Mountain Running Championships both years that she competed.
“That was a really amazing thing,” she said, “because if it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go because I couldn’t afford to go on my own. I think that the fund is just an incredible thing in our valley that allows people to do the things that they love, that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.”
Ortiz competed in the Uphill two years ago.
“It was one of the most awesome events I have ever done,” she said. “I think what really makes it stand out is that there are elites there, but there’s also just everyday athletes from the community, so it’s kind of like two worlds coming together.”
Ortiz said she liked the choose-your-own adventure aspect of the event, as you can wear running shoes with snow stabilizers or skis with skins.
“It’s pretty much straight uphill, and you can choose how you want to get up, so that makes it special,” she said.
Miller said the grassroots event is supported by the goodness of people coming together and donating their time and resources.
“This is to honor one of our friends who is no longer here and to elevate the future by helping these younger athletes,” she said.
The Vail Mountain Uphill begins at 7 a.m. on Sunday in th Lionshead base area, adjacent to the Eagle Bahn Gondola. Categories include ski and non-ski options and prizes will be awarded in categories by gender and age group, including 18 and younger, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69 and 70 and older. The finish line features separate portals for competitive and non-competitive participants and results are posted for competitive racers only.
Online registration is available prior to the race at http://www.imathlete.com/events/EventOverview.aspx?fEID=22027. Electronic registration on the day of the race is also available. Race entry fees are $30 through Saturday and $40 the day of the race. For more information, call 970-389-5392.