RED LODGE -- When someone asks Lisa Densmore what she does, she’s never quite sure how to answer.
“So I say whatever I’m doing at the time,” she said.
Densmore’s hesitation to reply is because she has such a multi-faceted career that she’s often juggling several tasks nearly simultaneously. Knowing that, you’d expect her to arrive for an interview harried, disheveled and in a hurry.
Nope. She exuded calm, smiling and joking as she sat in the Red Lodge Mountain lodge wearing her favorite white socks with red hearts on them that said, “I’m too sexy to be 50,” a gift from an old college roommate.
It takes a deep breath to recite the extent of the 51-year-old athlete’s professional work. Densmore is the author of six books and has new proposals under consideration. A former U.S. Ski Team member, she coaches the Silver Run Ski Club and the masters alpine racing program at Red Lodge Mountain. She also coaches four to eight women’s ski clinics at resorts around the nation each year. Over the years, she figures she’s educated 6,000 women skiers.
“From the outside looking in, my roles seem very fragmented, but they’re all actually related,” Densmore said. “The downside is you never take a vacation. I never travel anywhere without a camera.”
Wait, there’s more
That’s because when she’s not skiing or coaching, she writes and shoots photos for freelance magazine articles, mainly with an outdoors bent. She used to do color commentary at ski competitions for big networks like ESPN before she began writing, producing and starring on some regional television programs geared to the outdoors. She was a competitive sporting clays shotgun shooter. Somewhere, she also found time to work with HEAD skis on researching and designing skis and boots.
But skiing remains her passion, and she still competes. Last year, Densmore won the Super G, giant slalom and slalom events in her age group at the 2012 FIS Masters Criterium (World Championships) at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. She now holds four World Masters titles.
With such a resumé, it’s no wonder she has impressed the local talent.
“She’s the number one skier of her age in the world, and she’s fun to work with, too,” said Bob Gotshall, head youth coach of the Silver Run Race Team. “Some people don’t understand what an asset we’ve got here.”
New York girl
Densmore grew up in Lake Placid, N.Y., in a sports-oriented family. Her father was a ski racer and her mother was a figure skater. She was on skis as soon as she could walk.
“I have always skied, and I half joke that there are times I’m more proficient on my skis than I am walking,” she said.
At about age 11 or 12, she decided she had to choose a sport to concentrate her efforts.
“I picked skiing because the competition was against the clock,” she said. “Skating was a judged sport. Every sport has discretionary calls, but skiing, if you go the fastest you win.
“I felt in my young mind that was the way to go.”
Her idol as a youth was the dominating Swedish slalom and giant slalom skier Ingemar Stenmark. At the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980, he took gold in both specialties.
“I was just in awe of his skiing,” said Densmore, who has skied competitively since 1976. “He was really graceful and proficient on his skis. As a woman, that was something I felt I could emulate.”
Yet Densmore seems to have a body type more suited to figure skating – slim and tall at 5-foot-8. Her competitors as a youth in the World Cup were shorter and more bulky, and now top women competitive skiers like Lindsey Vonn are as big as some of the men skiers. That may be another reason behind Densmore’s attraction to Stenmark.
“Ingemar was tall and athletically built and slim, plus he was the best,” Densmore said. “I could relate to that type of skiing.”
Smooth certainly applies to Densmore’s skiing style. She makes even difficult slopes seem easy to negotiate. But she’s also extremely aggressive as she carves wide, graceful turns that leave deep gashes in the snow, her body close to the ground as she rides her skis’ edges.
No banker’s hours
Densmore’s ski industry work has come at the loss of a Dartmouth College economics degree. She had planned to work as an international banker, but when she left her New York City job to compete in a weekend ski race at the urging of a friend, she decided, much to her parents' chagrin, that skiing was more fun than banking would ever be.
Her outdoor-oriented professions have managed to take her around the world, but she claims her favorite thing to do now during the summers is backpack into a remote lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and fly fish. The scenery atop the wide open plateau is starkly different from the densely wooded Adirondack Mountains she grew up hiking.
Densmore landed in Red Lodge after meeting her sweetheart, outdoor writer and photographer Jack Ballard, at an outdoor writers’ meeting.
“We have a deal,” Densmore said. “I tune his skis and he guts my fish and deer.”
Ballard introduced Densmore to big game hunting about five years ago, stalking antelope across the prairie of southeastern Montana.
“I loved it,” she said. “I was more nervous then than I’ve ever been in a ski race.”
She’s gone elk hunting several times, but never filled her tag, so that’s one of her new goals.
While Ballard taught Densmore some of the intricacies of big game hunting, she has helped him refine his skiing. She also coaches Ballard, who is a member of the masters racing program at Red Lodge Mountain. Coach-learner relationships are notoriously fraught with dysfunction or hurt feelings – just ask any married couple about the first time they paddled a canoe -- but Densmore said they’ve been able to navigate that difficulty, although she admitted one uncertainty.
“When he’s frustrated, I’m not sure whether to play the role of sweetheart or coach, because they are a little different,” she said.
Densmore’s coaching style is extremely informative, according to Kai Kittleson, a masters program racer.
“She’s not just a one-type coach, she doesn’t coach everyone the same,” he said. “And she’s the nicest person you could ever meet.”
Densmore and Ballard both have children from previous marriages, so skiing is also a social family activity, as well as a lifetime sport. Not surprisingly, it was skiing that provided the incentive for her move to Red Lodge. She wrote an article on the best ski run in Montana after visiting all 15 ski areas in the state, a whirlwind tour in a winter of heavy snowfall. That tour helped clinch the decision to relocate to Red Lodge, and some of the locals are mighty happy she did.
“She’s world class,” said fellow coach Gotshall.