TRUCKEE, California – “The hope is that in the future, this can become a team on par with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, CXC and XC Oregon,” said Ben Grasseschi, the head coach of the newly established Far West Senior Farm Team based in Truckee, California.
The squad’s mission, to create a premium senior race team, is partly a personal goal for Grasseschi, who himself was left dangling after his collegiate skiing career.
“I see there is a gap there, after college. A lot of skiers still want to continue to skiing, and now as a coach with the Far West division, I have an opportunity to create a niche team like that,” he said. Additionally, as a junior coach, Grasseschi understands the benefits that younger athletes can reap by just being around elite skiers – both learning from them, and knowing that opportunities exist when they graduate.
“In the future, we hope to be a team on par with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), and be a competitor to those bigger teams. I believe that more competition brings up the level of the athletes in the nation,” Grasseschi said. “We hope to be able to compete for athletes, and be a real option – where skiers can say, ‘I will choose Truckee,’ because they have great coaches and tons of snow and 333 days of sun per year.”
Hosting the USSA SuperTour
The Farm Team skiers will travel some, but their focus is mostly on local events. However, Far West and Truckee are hosting a SuperTour race at Northstar in March, which will be a great opportunity to show off the area and the program, Grasseschi said. He hopes SuperTour racers will stay for the Gold Rush marathon a couple of days later, as well.
“This is a big thing for us and our program,” he said.
Additionally, the Farm Team is planning a residency program next summer.
“We will provide free housing to athletes who want to stay with us, train with us and see what we are about. Hopefully, they will then want to become a part of the team,” Grasseschi said.
Impressive and varied roster
The young team, which was officially launched in the beginning of November, has a roster that features a mix of homegrown skiers and athletes who have made Truckee and the Tahoe area their home. Most live, train and compete locally, but the Farm Team will be represented with two racers at the US Nationals: Matt Gelso and Chelsea Holmes.
Gelso, a former U.S. Ski Team member, is a Far West skier who wanted to represent the Farm Team but was offered a better package with SVSEF. But through a regional deal with SVSEF, where the Farm Team shares the responsibility for coaching and funding, Gelso is able to race and represent both teams while living in Sun Valley.
Holmes is originally from Alaska, but now lives in Truckee and works as an assistant coach at the Sugar Bowl Academy.
Kara LaPoint is a Truckee native who recently graduated from college and now races with the Farm Team.
Elias Bucher is a transplant from Switzerland who came over in 2008 to join the ski team at the University of Nevada-Reno (UNR), which was cut last year. Now, he wants to pursue his degree at UNR and continue competing, so he is a part of both the new UNR Winter Sports Club and the Farm Team.
Gus Johnson is also a UNR Winter sports Club member, and Michael Collins is a former Colby College skier who moved to the area a few years ago, and wants to see how far he can go in the sport.
Looking for sponsors
Currently, the Far West Farm Team is funded mainly by grants from the Far West division. That means skiers get very little direct financial support this season.
“We might be able to give a skier 750 dollars over the whole season, whereas those with SVSEF have access to maybe five or ten times as much as that,” Grasseschi said.
But the team is still very fresh, and over time, Grasseschi hopes to attract more local sponsorship, and go after the big fish.
“The title sponsor for the team is still available,” Grasseschi said.
“We will try to attract more corporate sponsors. But for the time being, we are trying to get our name out there locally,” he said, adding that in athletes’ contracts, team members agree to give back to the local community through service-oriented projects like junior coaching.
Several of the Farm Team athletes have also expressed interest in creating a community outreach project that would target Hispanic kids.
“We have quite a few Hispanic kids in the community, and we would like to get them involved,” Grassechi said. “Part of their deal with Far West is that we’re not just here to be ski racers, but also to give back to the community.”
In addition to Grasseschi, who has more than 15 years of experience as a coach, the Farm Team coaching staff includes co-Head Coach August Teaugue, and assistants Glenn Jobe and Jeff Schloss.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.