When the parade of brightly-colored spandex suits heats up the domestic circuit this year, competitors and spectators will see a new squad: Stella Racing. And while America’s first elite women-only team in more than a decade might be small, it will definitely be fast.
Morgan Smyth, Evelyn Dong, and Zoe Roy decided to start a team based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and have spent the spring and summer making it happen. Their rationale was pretty simple, according to Smyth.
“I decided that I wanted to live in Park City but that I still wanted to race,” she wrote in an e-mail. “So we put together a team!”
All three women had excellent seasons last year with their respective teams. Smyth finished on the podium at U.S. National Championships; she, Dong, and final team member Katie Ronsse took home a collection of SuperTour and NorAm podiums and top-tens. Roy was an NCAA All-American in her last year at the University of Utah, and represented Canada at the University Games in Turkey.
While Roy ran out of eligibility at Utah, necessitating a move, it was a less obviously logical step for the other women.
Ronsse and Smyth both had excellent 2011 race seasons representing APU; for Smyth, it was a return to the national stage after compartment syndrome surgery and illness limited her 2010 campaign, while Ronsse had what she called her “most enjoyable [season] as a competitive ski racer.”
But Ronsse decided to go to graduate school, an idea that had been germinating for a long time. Dong, who had been a mainstay of the XC Oregon program in Bend, also felt like it was time to “try something new.” So, according to Dong, the idea of Stella Racing originated when she was visiting Roy in Salt Lake City last spring.
“I was thinking about moving away from Bend,” Dong said in an interview. “[Roy] had used up her eligibility for skiing in school and also wanted to keep skiing. So we sort of figured that starting a team wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
Smyth, who had live in Park City before while she was on the U.S. Ski Team, quickly came on board, and the trio started trying to define their team and find sponsors. When Ronsse picked the University of Utah, the original team members said, “why not?” and added her to the squad, even though she hadn’t been looking to continue racing full-time.
The women decided to focus mainly on marathons, although they will begin the season with the SuperTour races in Montana. After U.S. Nationals, Smyth and Dong will hit up the Boulder Mountain Tour, the Owl Creek Chase, and the American Birkebeiner, then head to Europe for Worldloppet action.
“We figured there was a niche there for a women’s marathon team,” Dong told FasterSkier.
Roy, a Canadian citizen, will be focusing more on the NorAm circuit in an attempt to make it to Europe for OPA Cup racing. Ronsse will also be on her own schedule. As a full-time student, she won’t be able to race as often as her teammates and is planning to do just a few competitions.
“I have definitely entered into a new routine, but after a full day of studying I love to rip around outside on the trails,” Ronsse wrote in an e-mail. “If I can together with the other StellaRacing ladies and hammer around with them– it’s a double-bonus! I’ll be one of their biggest fans, and up for just about any good workout or ski clinic that’s organized when they’re back in town.”
But for the team as a whole, marathons are the focus. And what was originally a decision made out of pure fun and interest has turned out to be a good business move, too.
“There’s more money in [marathons] and our sponsors, like Toko and our ski sponsors, like to see that too,” Dong said. “So it definitely helps that we’re a lot more visible in that realm.”
So far, Stella Racing is relying heavily on local benefactors. Dong acknowledged that it was a tough time to start a team, but that the Park City area had been good to them.
“We’ve had ups and downs,” she said. “We’ve had some things that fell through, but the local sponsors are really pulling through for us. So we’re hoping to start there, and we’re going to be able to do some racing just because of them.”
She also thanked the athletes’ individual ski sponsors and Toko.
“Ian Harvey of Toko is helping us out a lot,” Dong said. “[Toko] gave us a kick in the butt to get us going when we had really stalled.”
Harvey, who is the U.S. Brand Manager for Toko, said that supporting the women was a no-brainer for him.
“The women on the team are enthusiastic and kind of emit a love of skiing and outdoor sports,” he wrote in an e-mail. “As a father of two girls, I really appreciate role models like this being available to the general public. I want the team to succeed both in terms of getting good results but also in ‘reaching’ a lot of people.”
Overall, the team has been surprisingly successful in setting up in the midst of a recession.
“I think financial support is always limited in ski racing, but we are lucky to have a few key sponsors, such as Toko, that are making the team possible,” Smyth said.
It’s some of the only support they will receive. The team will not have a coach this year, which was both a financial necessity and a choice. With years of elite racing experience under their belts, the women did not seem troubled by being self-coached.
They also won’t have consistent race support. Dong said that they would be contracting wax technicians at each race rather than retaining a single person for the entire season.
For now, they are enjoying the last weeks of fall. Dong said that the squad had an excellent summer of training and was prepared for the season.
“[Park City] is pretty sweet,” she told FasterSkier. “The trails are probably some of the best for training, like running and bounding. And the mountain biking is unreal here.”