The Sierra Nevada has long been a training ground for elite athletes.
Low air pressure at high elevation keeps oxygen in short supply, forcing the body to adapt and giving a competitive edge to those willing to push themselves through thin air.
And finding the athletes in the Sierra region who have been able to push fitness the furthest is the goal of an event in South Lake Tahoe this weekend.
One hundred athletes, both men and women, will participate in the Fittest of the Sierras competition at South Tahoe CrossFit Saturday.
The event, in its third year, focuses on the burgeoning sport of CrossFit and is unlike traditional bodybuilding competitions, said South Tahoe CrossFit co-owner Tim Anderson. CrossFit bills itself as the "sport of fitness" and focuses on functional health through purposefully broad exercise programs that vary daily.
"We don't care about mirrors. We don't care about that," Anderson said Thursday. "We care about 'Are you faster? Are you stronger?'"
Saturday's competition consists of three rounds, each including a different set of exercises. A single round is similar to what a CrossFit participant would complete as part of a daily exercise program.
"It's constantly challenging," said South Tahoe CrossFit co-owner Del Lafountain. "Every day is a little bit different."
Round one on Saturday includes eight "burpee box jumps," where a competitor starts in the standing position, drops down into a pushup position, gets back up and then jumps over a wooden box. Twelve pull-ups follow. Completing as many sets of the two exercises as possible in nine minutes is the goal for each competitor.
The next two rounds include activities like jump roping with the rope being required to get around twice on each hop, throwing a medicine ball to a certain height against a wall while squatting on the catch and weightlifting disciplines like squats and snatches.
CrossFit workouts are designed to continually keep a participant pushing his or her limits, and tend to make soreness a persistent companion, Anderson said.
Recounting his first CrossFit experience, Anderson said, "I got about halfway through it. I thought I was going to die, but I loved it."
"Some people do it and never do it again," Anderson continued. "Some people do it and get beat up and love it."
The number of people getting beat up and loving it is growing, according to Anderson and Lafountain, who said people were able to walk into the first CrossFit Games in 2007 and compete.
Now, a CrossFit Games hopeful needs to be among the best of the about 65,000 people who compete in regional events leading up to the event.
Anderson plans to compete in the Masters division at the games, which will be held at the tennis stadium of the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. in July. The stadium holds 8,000 people. Spectator tickets sold out earlier this month.
"It's exploding," Lafountain said. "It's the No. 1 growing fitness model in the world right now."
The local competition is booked solid on the competitor side, but is open to spectators and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at South Tahoe CrossFit. The gym is located at 2050 Dunlap Drive.
Fittest of the Sierras is a partnership between South Tahoe CrossFit and Growing Worldwide Opportunity Foundation, a Zephyr Cove-based program designed to help solve food, shelter, health and education issues around the world.
More information is available at www.fittestofthesierras.org.