There are athletes of all kinds. Some snowshoe for the health benefits, while others enjoy the sheer delight of moving through scenic paths and snow-covered terrain. Some snowboard, watching the world quickly pass by in a blurred flash of color, while others climb, carefully placing hands and feet on tall mountain walls. For Danelle Ballengee, competitor extraordinaire, snowshoeing is only part of her athletic accomplishments. She does it all.
Ballengee grew up playing soccer and running in Colorado’s rocky mountains. She has since traveled to some of the world’s greatest summits to compete in SkyMarathons (races over rugged terrain at elevations between 10,000 and 18,000 feet).
During the summer of 2000, Ballengee set the woman’s speed record for climbing all of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. peaks (55 peaks in 14.5 days). She competed as a professional triathlete for four years and is currently competing as a professional adventure racer on team Nike ACG/Balance Bar. Her team was the “Adventure Race Team of the Year” in 2002 and 2003. Currently, Ballengee is an undefeated racer, winner of the prestigious North American Snowshoe Championships and a professional endurance racer.
Her first snowshoe race was a triathlon held in Copper Mountain, Colo. “I heard about a triathlon that included ski, mountain bike and snowshoe and I thought that it sounded like fun,” Ballengee explained. “It was quite a struggle, but it went well. At the end of the day, they had a raffle and I won a pair of snowshoes. It was great.”
From there, she traveled to the Netherlands to race against snowshoers from around the world. “I ended up winning the whole thing and just had the best time running through the thick woods and the really tight trees. I remember it was so quiet. All I could hear was my breathing.”
Ballengee was hooked. Since that race, she has become a top dog in the snowshoeing biz and has remained successful for ten years. “I like to race. I like the challenge. I like the competition – just being out there, just pushing myself to see how far I can go.”
Ballengee feels lucky to have stayed on top for such a long time and has no immediate plans to slow down. “I’ll keep [racing] as long as I can but, once I get to the point where I can no longer do it, I would like to do a little coaching because I really like that as well.”
Ballengee has already introduced herself to the coaching experience and has organized a successful race called the Swift Skedaddle, an adventurous event known for its unique course. Snowshoers seek out the 3K and the 10K courses for their action-packed terrain. According to Ballengee, “the course is challenging, but if you keep smiling, even first-timers will have no problem finishing.” For seven years, Ballengee has held this Colorado competition for snowshoers possessing strength, determination and passion for the sport.
There’s no doubt about it, Ballengee keeps busy both in and out of snowshoes. “Right now, if I try to relax too much, I get antsy; but, sometimes, I get tired of [constant competition] and think, ‘There’s going to be a time in my life when I just want to sit still,’” she explained. “As I get older, I seem to like the training more than the competition. I like to enjoy the sport, rather than go into the competition thinking, ‘Aw man, this is going to hurt.’”
Right now, however, this on-the-go athlete isn’t going anywhere. “I’m pretty happy with what I am doing. I am kind of at the top and I feel like I am fairly successful,” she explained. “I would like to improve, get a little faster and a little better; but I really just want to have fun with it, enjoy it. I want to continue to compete, make money and just have fun.”
“Just have fun” is also the advice that she leaves to Snowshoe Magazine constituents. “Go out in nature, see different places, meet people,” she advised. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t set unrealistic goals. I think that [by setting unrealistic goals] racing can be more frustrating and, in the end, it can burn people out. For me, just trying to keep [snowshoeing] a positive experience is the key.”
Ballengee believes that snowshoeing is a great way to introduce one’s self to competition. “Go into your first few races slowly,” she said. “Good runners will take off so hard in the beginning; and, instead of enjoying being out there, they get into more of a suffering mode. Ease into it. [Snowshoeing] is similar to running, but take it slow. There are a lot of races out there that have free demo snowshoes; and that’s a good place to start. Try different snowshoes. Find the kind that suits you best.”
Snowshoeing is also great for nature-loving drifters who are simply looking for a way to trim their waistlines, while enjoying their surroundings. “A lot of people that enter races aren’t runners,” Ballengee explained. “Snowshoeing is great for these people. Nice courses, good scenery. With snowshoeing, whether you’re competing or not, a race is a good place to get started. People are real friendly. It’s not like triathlon where people are really tough. I go into every race and just give it my best shot. If I can say I put in a good effort for the day, that’s great,” Ballengee said.
You heard the woman. Hit the snowshoe slopes. Give it a good shot. It’s gotta be snowing somewhere in the Himalayas. For more information on Colorado’s Swift Skedaddle, call 970-389-4838.