The Vail Nordic Town Series, a friendly cross-country and Alpine competition series organized by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, kicks off Thursday evening with the Nordic opener at the Vail Nordic Center.

The first Nordic race of the season, which begins at 4:30 p.m. with lower and middle school-aged athletes followed by adults, has become an annual holiday tradition bringing together current SSCV athletes, club alumni and recreational racers. Adult and high school-aged athletes will start at 5:15 p.m., followed by a holiday dinner at the Vail Nordic Center and golf club.

“The first race in the series is the big gathering where everyone comes home for the holidays, which is cool because we’ll have a lot of alumni coming home to help organize the race, giving back as much as they can,” SSCV Nordic Director Dan Weiland said. “You’ll see a lot of former NCAA guys — some are still fit, some are not so fit.”

The dinner to follow is a nice opportunity for these former club athletes, many of whom were involved in the early days of the Nordic program, to see how the program has developed and grown into a larger community, Weiland said.

The first Town Series event consists of a handful of race lengths, including 5K (adult race), 3K (middle school) and 1K (younger kids). The adult race usually attracts 60 or more athletes.

Anyone can race. Headlamps are recommended, as the sun will set throughout the course of the race, but organizers will have flashlights and other lights on the course.

“A headlamp will be helpful, but the chain-up zone provides a lot of light and the course is pretty easy,” Weiland said. “It’s a great opportunity to work off the holiday ham — that’s my plan anyway.”

The Vail Nordic Town Series continues throughout the season with Nordic events on Jan. 23, Feb. 26, Feb. 27 and March 16.

The six-event Alpine Town Series also kicks off in January with races on Golden Peak beginning Jan. 10. through March 28.