SNOWSHOE, W.VA., FEB. 2 -- Washington area skiers will have the opportunity this weekend to both witness and participate in big-time racing, or at least the closest thing to it in this area.

Today and Monday, Snowshoe Mountain Resort (approximately 70 miles south of Elkins, W.Va.) will host the 17th annual Cupp Run Challenge, pro-am skiing featuring slalom and giant slalom events.

The Cupp Run Challenge, initially named the Jean-Claude Killy Cup, after the world-champion Frenchman who endorsed and participated in the event, will feature professionals going head-to-head in a dual slalom race beginning at 10 a.m. today. Monday's showcase will be the Cupp Run giant slalom, open to amateurs and professionals.

The biggest alpine event in the Mid-Atlantic region, Cupp Run racing features a 1 1/4-mile course dropping 1,500 feet.

"It's the longest and most demanding race in the Mid-Atlantic region and that helps attract the best racers," said race director Mark Poore. Last year's races drew nearly 150 competitors seeking a portion of the $3,000 professional purse and $3,000 worth of prizes for nonprofessional competitors.

Last year's professional winner, Fernando Enedvoldsen, 25, of Argentina, toured for four years in South America and Japan. Now an instructor at Ski Beech in North Carolina, he limits his competitive efforts to the Cupp Run and "four or five" other races.

"For me, the Cupp Run is the most exciting race; it's a real race," he said. "You have to put all your technique together and really work hard because it's steep at the bottom and very technical. And it's a long race so you really have to concentrate on the things you do when you get tired. It is the best race in the East, at least the Southeast."

According to Poore: "What makes Cupp Run so demanding is the length and steepness of the last 500 vertical feet. Usually in the giant slalom races, that area is flat, but that isn't the case with our race."

Chris Furman, a Washington resident who finished 15th overall last year, and in the top five as an amateur, considers Cupp Run one of the three top races in the area, along with the West Virginia Governor's Cup at Canaan Valley and the Maryland Governor's Cup at Wisp.

"The Cupp Run is so long, it's more like a Super GS {giant slalom}," he said. "By the time you get to the bottom, your legs are really burning. It's a good course. They keep it in good shape, steep and fast."

Poore credits the course design for the speedy 40 mph runs, explaining that the 50 gates are "set up so that the race features speed and turning ability."

But that doesn't mean you have to be a world-class skier to participate. Sean Richardson didn't take up the sport until he was 27. Now in his mid-forties, he credits racing with the development of his skills.

"The competition is great," said Richardson. "It has improved my skills immensely. For a minute and a half, I just ski my heart out."

Race promoter Joe Stevens said about half the entrants are amateurs, some first-time racers. Amateurs are divided into age categories of 18-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50-plus for both men and women. There is also a team competition in which many area clubs participate. Only one professional category exists requiring racers to be at least 21.

For those interested in racing but feel the Cupp Run might be too difficult, Snowshoe offers NASTAR racing on a daily basis.

NASTAR races are modified giant slalom races on intermediate trails run strictly on an amateur level. Skiers race against the "par time" established by a NASTAR pacesetter who runs the course daily.

NASTAR races at Snowshoe start at 11 a.m.