Stacey Kramer has been organizing Vertical Express for Multiple Sclerosis for 15 years. She originally got involved because of the people she has known with MS. The first person she met with the disease was her best friend's mother. Kramer was six years old.
"It had a big impact on me," she said.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the body's ability to function. Scar tissue builds on the nerves, affecting neural transmission to the muscles. MS is a degenerative disease and affects everyone differently. MS cripples the body, but leaves the mind completely intact.
Kramer stayed involved with the Vertical Express for all these years because she has seen the results of her hard work.
"I always enjoyed the event," she said. "More than that, I think there are so many opportunities to help out -- raise money for this, walk for that -- but you don't always see where the money goes.
"With The Huega Center (the organization that receives the proceeds of the Vertical Express), I actually see how it's benefiting people we know. And it's going to help people locally. I know that I'm making some small change in a positive way."
This is the 20th year for the Vertical Express, formerly known as the Snow Express, nationwide and the 19th year for the event in Steamboat Springs.
The first event was held at the Alyeska Resort in Alaska. Olympic ski racer Jimmie Huega was diagnosed with MS in 1970 when he was 26 years old and at the height of his racing career. Conventional medical wisdom at the time advised people with MS to avoid any physical stress. Instead, Huega famously went against the advice of doctors and used exercise and nutrition to keep his disease at bay.
In 1984, he decided to start The Huega Center to teach what he'd learned to other MS sufferers. He gathered his Olympic racing friends, including Steamboat's Billy Kidd, for the first Vertical Express to raise money to open the center.
On that day at Alyeska, ten racers skied 1 million vertical miles during 24 hours.
The tradition continues in Steamboat. Until last year, the Vertical Express event was a three-hour race down Sitz/See Me ski run with skiers hitting speeds of 80 miles per hour and raising, in 2004, more than $80,000.
This year, for safety reasons, the marathon-style race has been changed to a Speed Trap Sprint. Skiers will have three chances to head down the racecourse. They will be clocked, and the best time will determine the winner.
Participants in the day's events also will compete in the annual Poker Run. Skiers and riders are given clues to eight locations on the mountain. At each location, an envelope will be waiting. Inside is a playing card. At the end of the competition, everyone will compare cards, and the best poker hand wins.
The day ends with an awards ceremony. Huega will provide a videotaped message for the participants.
Every year, between 15 and 20 teams of three racers enter the Vertical Express. Already, 17 teams have entered, Kramer said. Teams must have raised a minimum of $1,000 to enter. Individuals who want to enter the fund-raiser without a team must have raised a minimum of $333 to participate.
This year's Vertical Express will be Feb. 12. Registration will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 11 in the Round Up Room located in Gondola Square.
On the day of the Vertical Express, a tent also will be set up in Gondola Square for those who wish to make donations. A $20 donation earns the donor a Vertical Express T-shirt. Donations of $100 or more earn the donor a lift ticket to the Steamboat Ski Area.
For more information about racing in the Vertical Express, call Jill Waldman at 879-9020. To volunteer, call Stacey Kramer at 879-7860.
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