Pain and anguish seem perfect on this Saturday
FRISCO – When adventure racer Danelle Ballengee’s name is attached to a snowshoe race course design, it usually means pain and anguish for the competitors. It usually means, by the time you’re finished, your insides feel shredded by barbed wire and your lungs feel blown out like withered balloons.
But Ballengee still takes the risk of standing at the finish line of her races. At Saturday’s Swift Skedaddle Great Snowshoe Adventure at the Frisco Nordic Center, men’s 10K champion Isaac Barnes gave her a punch in the shoulder as he finished.
“That was the hardest hill I’ve ever seen,” said the Breckenridge racer, who finished in 50 minutes, 5 seconds. “A Danelle course has to have a hill like that.”
The hill, located about 8K into the course, forced competitors to climb hand-over-hand while digging their snowshoes into the sugary snow. As one racer put it while gasping for air: “She found the only hill in the county that doesn’t go down.”
But it also earned Ballengee a few kisses on the cheek. That’s how it goes for snowshoe racers, who find pleasure in early-morning jaunts through the wind and snow, up hills, across lakes and all for prizes like free soup and self-esteem.
“I like this kind of stuff,” said U.S. Snowshoe Team member Helen Cospolich, who finished 16 seconds behind teammate Anita Ortiz of Eagle in the women’s 10K. “The long, flat sections are harder. These climbs keep me focused on the task at hand. I feel stronger going up.”
As does Ortiz, who finished in 58:10 despite this being the first race she’s competed in since removing a cast from her foot.
“I’m still healing,” said Ortiz, who had time to celebrate with her 11-year-old daughter, Amelia, who won her age group in the 3K. “They say it’s going to take nine months.”
Breckenridge’s Cospolich, who runs 100-mile ultramarathons in the summer, understands.
“We’re very much the same way,” she added.
Another Ballengee attribute is the slight fib she tells when she sets distances. The 3K race, for example, was more like 4K. And she mentioned this to onlookers just as James Lynum, who finished second in the 3K, collapsed across the finish line. Ballengee just smiled.
“I like this a lot,” said Lynum, still catching his breath. “I do this every chance I get.”
More than 100 competitors made it out to the race, despite four other major competitions this weekend. But, again, pain and anguish to snowshoers is like candy and soda pop to a kid – unless you’re 13-year-old Andy Arrance.
“I like this course,” Arrance said. “It had the hill.”
Charlie Wertheim wasn’t finished for the day after he placed second in the 10K. On his way back to his home in Glenwood Springs, he figured he might as well stop by the 5K night race in Cordillera near Edwards. And Vail’s Rick Schmelzer, the 3K men’s champ, was going to knock out the Pedal Power five-mile snowshoe race in Vail the same night.
“That event is great. You get hit in the head with branches,” Schmelzer said. “You’re following the course with a head lamp. It’s different, which is always good.”
But Ballengee has a unique way of rewarding her competitors beyond tough courses and a few cases of beer. To make sure the competitors reached the furthest point on the course, she had them pick up two pieces of candy from Frisco the Snowman.
One piece of candy went to the aid station, and the other piece of candy went to the racer.
“This way I know they’re doing the whole course,” Ballengee said.
Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 257, or at firstname.lastname@example.org