Primal question: A race in Colorado? |

Primal question: A race in Colorado?

Devon O'Neil
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Framed by the La Sal range outside Moab last summer, eventual Primal Quest Utah runner-up GoLite/Timberland treks through high-alpine terrain similar to what next year's Primal Quest competitors could see in Colorado. (Kristin Anderson/Summit Daily file)

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Ever since he agreed to take over the most prestigious and richest adventure race in the world this past spring, Don Mann has wanted to stage the 2008 Primal Quest in one place.

“From the very outset,” the new CEO said, “Colorado’s been our first choice.”

To make that happen, Mann directed one of the sport’s luminaries, longtime Summit County resident and Colorado native Danelle Ballengee, to design a course that would feature the state’s prized, mountainous terrain as well as take racers to their physical and mental limits.

Ballengee did just that. She devoted what she estimates to be more than 100 hours plotting, scouting, even logging miles on most of the 350- to 400-mile course herself, until she had a winner.

Mann, meanwhile, was busy contacting area resorts to see if they’d be interested in partnering with the race to serve as its headquarters throughout the 10-day competition next June. In a Wednesday phone interview from his home in Virginia, while he declined to disclose whether the race would include Summit County terrain, Mann said he’s been speaking with representatives from Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Winter Park. Each, he said, expressed interest in hosting the event.

About six weeks ago, however, Mann began to feel “uneasy” about the viability of holding the race here. The cause for such concern? He worried that he and Ballengee wouldn’t be able to secure the necessary permits from land agencies, most significantly the U.S. Forest Service.

“The response we’re getting from the permitting folks is ‘Oh, no, not another adventure race,'” he said.

And so, with the clock ticking toward mid-September, when he plans to announce the race’s location, Mann has decided to go forward with some contingency plans. He’s had course designers in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and, in just the past couple of weeks, Arizona, lay out routes in their respective states, in case the Colorado plan falls through.

“Those three,” he said, speaking of Idaho, Arizona and Montana, “we have the green light to go. In terms of having a course and having a resort that’d host us.”

This is not to say he’s given up on Colorado, although Ballengee said she doubts Mann will stage the race here if he doesn’t start getting more cooperation, and soon.

“I’m just standing back waiting at this point,” said Ballengee, a three-time PQ champion.

Mann and Ballengee have contacted four Forest Service ranger districts in Colorado thus far, but it was a frosty reception from one in particular that sent Mann scrambling for what he calls “a backup, as well as a backup to the backup.”

“The lady said she didn’t have the time to work on this sort of project,” said Ballengee, declining to name the district except to say it was in “central southern” Colorado, and that it wasn’t in Summit County.

Knowing they’ll likely need some help to bring the race to Colorado, both Mann and Ballengee called state Rep. Dan Gibbs a few weeks ago to see if he might be able to assist on the political front. Gibbs called Mann back at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, and, as Mann put it, “said, ‘I’m gonna get right on this.'”

Gibbs contacted his old boss, Congressman Mark Udall, in an attempt to expedite communication between the race organizers and the Forest Service. He said he hasn’t heard back since making the call a week ago, “but that’s not unusual.”

“I think it’d be really exciting to have the race here,” Gibbs said Wednesday. “I think it’d be a real plus to the state of Colorado, especially for our mountain communities.”

In a series of interviews conducted this week, multiple area ranger district spokespersons said they are not able to say much until a formal permit application has been submitted, which has not happened up to now. Brad Eckert, resource specialist with Summit County Open Space and Trails, said he, too, was contacted by Ballengee but has not yet seen a formal application (Ballengee said she and Mann are unlikely to submit the applications until they get more cooperation from the agencies).

Still, Eckert said, “I’m expecting it.”

Primal Quest, traditionally a 10-day competition for coed teams of four, has been staged four times before, including the inaugural race in Telluride in 2002. Last year’s event, based in Moab, Utah, was held primarily on Bureau of Land Management terrain, for which permits are generally easier to secure.

The 2008 race, set to commence June 21, costs $12,500 per team to enter and offers a $100,000 cash purse.