Lisa Densmore Ballard
Racer, writer, broadcaster, coach.
Photo top: Race face on, Ballard speeds through a Master's race at Mammoth.
Lisa Ballard grew up on skis and skates in Lake Placid, New York. She had the genes for it: Her dad, Phillip Feinberg, was an avid skier, racer and ski club official, and her mom, Phyllis Krinovitz, was a champion figure skater.
Ballard won her first ski race at age six, the Candy Bar Slalom at Mt. Pisgah, N.Y.—so called because the trophy was a candy bar. “That was great motivation for getting into ski racing,” she says. She both skied and skated until age 11, then had to pick one or the other. She picked racing because victory was determined by the clock.
During her sophomore year at Saranac Lake High School, Ballard transferred to Stratton Mountain School. She won the Vermont state downhill at Killington, which qualified her for the Eastern Cup GS, and she won again. She was then promoted to NorAm, named to the U.S. Ski Team at age 16 and raced on the Europa Cup in 1978. Her peers were women like Heidi Preuss and Tamara McKinney. Ballard recalls, “The mentality around women and ski racing was that you had to make it by the time you were 16, otherwise you were done. We now know much more about sports science and athletic development. Girls develop physically earlier than boys, but the mental piece can take much longer.”
In 1979 Ballard, at 18, skied in the pre-Olympic downhill on Whiteface. Her dad was the starter for the women’s events. Her fans in Lake Placid anticipated that she would make the 1980 Olympic Team, but Ballard broke her leg in a downhill at Killington, and that was that.
Instead, she went to Dartmouth. Back then, once you went to college, the U. S. Ski Team doubted your commitment to racing. Today, however, many athletes from college teams go to the World Cup. Ballard credits her Dartmouth teammate Tiger Shaw for making this breakthrough. He graduated to the U.S. Ski Team in 1985 and raced in the ’88 and ’92 Olympics. Ballard believes Shaw’s success created the change whereby college ski racers now have the chance to compete on the world stage.
Ballard graduated in 1983 and took a job at an investment bank on Wall Street. Disillusioned within a year, she was ready when Stratton teammate Kim Reichhelm invited her to a pro race at Okemo. Before heading to Dartmouth, Ballard says, “I knew at the end of college that if I wanted to keep racing, there was always the pro tour. It was very equivalent in the minds of the athletes in terms of racing competition and in some ways a better opportunity because you could win prize money and get direct sponsorships. This was the way to become a professional ski racer because back then, the World Cup, though elite, was still considered amateur.”
Reichhelm talked Ballard into entering the Okemo race, and she qualified for the round of 16, which guaranteed prize money. She had a blast and called her old coach Herman Goellner, saying “Herman, I want to quit my job and ski race again.” He put together a dryland conditioning and on-snow program for her. She quit her desk job and went to Europe to train.
Ballard raced on Jill Wing’s Women’s Pro Ski Racing Tour for six years. In 1989, en route to the pro tour’s world championships at Sierra Summit, California (now China Peak), the airline misrouted her racing skis to Japan, and she was not able to race. Instead, Hugh Arian of Echo Entertainment, the producer of the event’s television coverage, asked her to do guest commentary. She agreed and turned out to be a natural broadcaster.
When Ballard retired from the pro tour after the 1990 season, ready for a change but still wanting to stay involved in skiing, her agent, Fred Sharf, hooked her up with the Travel Channel, which hired her to host a new series, Ski New England. At the same time, ESPN brought her in as a commentator for women’s pro ski racing. This launched Ballard’s full-time career in broadcast television, which would continue over the next two decades.
She became a field producer as well as an on-camera host. During this time, she also did some writing and consulting; one project was helping Ski Industries America (now Snowsports Industries America) with its image work. John Fry brought her in as a fashion editor at Snow Country and as director of the National Skiwear Design Awards. After a year, she became the magazine’s instruction editor.
When shaped skis were introduced in the mid-’90s, Ballard helped the world learn how to carve on them. She joined the design team at Head, helping create its first complete line of women’s shaped skis, then a line of ski boots in which both the shell and the liner were lasted for a woman’s foot. “I named them the ‘Dream’ series because they were my dream ski boots,” she says.
But Ballard wasn’t done racing. In 1991, at age 29, she joined the Masters racing circuit as her first husband, Jason Densmore, was an avid Masters racer at the time. “I’m not much of a spectator, and it looked like a lot of fun,” she explains. However, as a pro, she had to regain her amateur status by petitioning the then-U.S. Ski Association. That year, at the U.S. Alpine Masters National Championships in Vail, Ballard raced downhill and won. She raced GS and won. And then she had the slalom—not her specialty. She remembers this race like it was yesterday. She had a good first run. The second run she almost crashed three times because she was so nervous, but she won and that set the hook for her future. She had a lot of friends who were racing on the circuit. It was fun, and a different type of ski racing.
From her home in Hanover, New Hampshire, Ballard spent 20 years racing on the New England Masters circuit and served on its board of directors. She went to the regional and national championships every year. After her son, Parker Densmore, was born in 1996, she kept racing, bringing him to her races and eventually attending his, too, as a coach for the Ford Sayre Ski Club.
By the mid-2010s, Ballard had won more than a hundred national Masters’ titles and quit counting. After dabbling at the FIS Masters Cup—the World Cup of Masters racing—in 2016, she started racing more frequently on the international Masters circuit and has now garnered eight globes, more than any American, male or female. For the 2023–24 season, she’s the defending super G champion, second in GS and fifth in slalom among all women in all age groups.
Ballard is still involved with U.S. Ski and Snowboard, entering her sixth year as chair of the Masters working group. She calls herself a pied piper, trying to get folks back into ski racing or start ski racing as an adult. She hopes to make people understand that ski racing is a sport you can do your whole life, just like golf, tennis, swimming, track and field or mountain biking. “They all have Masters programs that keep you active and fit,” she says.
In a national survey, one of the barriers to Masters ski racing is the lack of training opportunities. Ballard has hosted women’s ski clinics around the country since 1991, and some 8,500 women have gone through her program. “I knew how to put ski instructional programs together, so why not Masters race camps?” she says. “It filled a need while helping raise money for local junior or Masters programs. She now directs Masters training programs and camps in the Rockies, the Northeast and in South America.
After Ballard met her second husband, the outdoor writer Jack Ballard, she moved to Montana in 2011. The family—Lisa, Jack, Parker and Jack’s kids Micah, Dominic and Zoe—live near Red Lodge Mountain, where Lisa coaches when she’s not travelling to races or hosting clinics elsewhere. “I never planned to be a ski coach, but I love every day on the hill,” she says. “I feel extremely rich in experiences, and to me that is really important. I tell my son, ‘You have to follow your heart and do what you care about most.’ I have met some amazing and wonderful people. I feel very fortunate, and the rest comes easy when you love something.”
Melinda Moulton wrote about Wini Jones in the July-August issue. In October, Lisa Ballard was elected to the ISHA board of directors.