It won't be a gradual re-introduction to ski racing. Phil and Steve Mahre will be tossed in a pool along with some of the world's best skiers and told to win or be eliminated. It won't be easy.

The Mahre's haven't pushed out of a racing gate with any real feeling since 1984, while most of the competition hasn't stopped skiing. Most skied on the pro circuit last year, others on World Cup, and a few in the North American series. They are experienced and conditioned. The Mahres aren't. Skiing for them the past four years has been for fun and sponsor-ships.Then, too, this is a new type of racing for the Washington twins. They grew up racing on courses where everyone lined up single file and raced the clock. Now, there will be someone to watch out for on the course next door and time plays only a secondary role to who crosses the line first.

Besides that, there will be jumps on the course - two on the slalom, three on the giant slalom. Jumps, from six to eight feet high, can interrupt the rhythm and throw off the balance, which is something the Mahres will have to get used to.

But the two, now 31 (Phil is the older by a few minutes), are the best skiers America has been able to produce. Phil became the first American to win the prestigious World Cup. He finished up winning 27 World Cup titles and capped it with a gold medal in the slalom in the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Steve won nine World Cup events, the first gold medal in World Championship skiing, and a silver medal in slalom in Sarajevo.

They were the greatest. But now, after a four-year layoff, can they come back in this new style of racing?

It will be, as the Mahres recently admitted, something they'll have to get used to.

"I feel like I ought to be able to win," said Steve. "I just have to figure out what it takes to win, and then do it."

Lured back by the money (in the neighborhood of $400,000 each and the possibility of doubling that with prize money and incentive clauses) and a yearn to get back into racing, the two will make their pro skiing debut Thursday when Park City begins it's third annual America's Opening. More than 120 men and women racers will be going for a part of the $130,000 in prize money being offered.

It will be, again, the opening pro races for both men and women. The schedule is: Thursday - women's giant slalom qualifying at 10 a.m., men's slalom qualifying at 1 p.m.; Friday - women's slalom qualifying at 10 a.m., women's finals at noon; Saturday - women's giant slalom finals at 10 a.m., men's slalom finals at 1 p.m.; and Sunday - men's giant slalom finals at 10 a.m.

Tickets for the event are available at the Park City ski area.

The Mahres, in their new black, orange and yellow uniforms, will make their first official pro run Thursday when they try to be one of 32 qualifying for the two men's races. The 16 fastest racers on each of the two courses (red and blue) will move into Saturday's and Sunday's events.

Just to qualify, however, will not be easy for the two newcomers. About 90 men will be vying for one of the racing slots, each with some impressive racing credentials.

Returning to defend his overall title will be former Swedish World Cup skier Joakim Wallner, and defending America's Cup winner Cary Adgate.

There will also be a strong contingent of other U.S. skiers, such as former U.S. Ski Team racers Mark Tache, John Buxman, David Stapleton, Cory Carlson, Terry Ahola and Hans Standteiner.

Also schedule to race will be Utah's Scott Hoffman. After undergoing knee surgery over the summer, Hoffman resumed training in the fall and will again try to compete on the pro tour. Last year, despite injuries, he finished 20th overall on the circuit.

The women's competition will be no less difficult. The women's tour will again feature some of the top skiers, including Andreja Leskovek, who won the Park City race last year, Linda MeGehee, America's top skier and third on the tour last year, and tour winner Roswitha Raudaschl of Austria.

Among the newcomers will be Catharina Glasser-Bjerner of sweden and Andrea Bedard of Canada. Glasser-Bjerner is a former member of the Swedish National Team and a three-time Swedish National Champion; Bedard spent five years on the World Cup circuit and was the Canadian National Slalom Champion in 1984.