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Stories from the games

This is the second of three stories about Boulder athletes heading to the Winter Mountain Games (formerly known as the Teva Mountain Games) that we'll run this week. On Friday, look for a profile of climber Sam Elias. Get more info on the games at mountaingames.com.

University of Colorado-Boulder senior Kjell Ellefson will have home-field advantage this weekend at the Winter Mountain Games in Vail.

The 21-year-old photography major practically grew up on the mountain, so competing in the games' telemark big air competition, complete with fireball, will feel like coming home to Ellefson.

"I actually used to ride in a backpack on my dad's shoulders (at Vail) when I was young, probably too young actually," Ellefson said, laughing. "My parents told me I could ski before I could run."

Both of his parents worked at the mountain, so a young Ellefson picked up ski racing early, starting with moguls before moving on to the park. When he tried telemark for the first time, there was no going back, he said.

His brother, 26-year-old Sylvan Ellefson, took a different path as a cross-country skier. Sylvan will also compete at Vail this weekend in the 10K cross-country race, so the brothers will spend some quality, free-heelin' time together.

"It is hard because we're both winter sport athletes that compete pretty separately," Sylvan said. "On some weekends he'll have his events, and I'll have my events, so whenever we do have a chance to see each other compete we definitely look forward to it."

The Ellefson's father, U.S. mountain running team member Lyndon Ellefson, died July 10, 1998 during a training run in the Swiss Alps near the Italian border when Kjell was 7 and Sylvan was 11, Sylvan Ellefson said.

Though they're four years apart, Sylvan Ellefson said they became tight knit after their father's death.

"That was an event that brought our family really close," Sylvan said. "We're brothers, we definitely have our differences, we fought. But today I would say our bond as brothers is probably as strong as ever."

The two Ellefson brothers were born and raised in Vail, but are named for their Norwegian and Scandinavian heritage. Kjell, pronounced "Shell," is one of the most common male names in Norway and Sweden.

Earlier this winter, Kjell spent three weeks touring Sweden, skiing and taking photos for Telemark Skier Magazine, where he works as visual media editor.

The magazine's publisher Josh Madsen met Kjell when he was just 14, trying to get his name into the tele world.

"We created this squad of guys called the 'Monster Squad,'" Madsen said. "Kjell was 14-years-old. It was pretty cool, he sent in this little promo that he made."

When Madsen became editor of the magazine in 2009, he brought Kjell on as a contributor, and later as an editor. Even as a young telemark skier, Madsen said Kjell always carried himself like an adult.

"In the ski business, handling yourself is tricky for a lot of people," Madsen said. "We met when he was 14. I was always impressed. He was always super organized and had it together -- and above everything else he's always wanted to be the best at what he's doing."

While in Sweden earlier this month, he won the Student Ski Week rail jam in Vemdalen and took second in the big air competition. At last year's Winter Mountain Games, Kjell came home with a third-place medal.

"I'm hoping to get on the podium again and do well," Kjell said. "But just throw the tricks I know I can land and hopefully the judges like them."

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta