Ben Grasseschi, Executive Director, Coach & Wax Extraordinaire
Executive Director (ED), Ben Grasseschi shares insight with you as if you’re chatting with him while he waxes your skis. In Ben’s Bench, you’ll be entertained with stories, insights, and techniques related to cross-country skiing from our own Ben Grasseschi, ED, Coach, and Wax Tech Extraordinaire. In this (first) Ben’s Bench blog, learn how Ben’s path intertwined with Tahoe XC, just how many Olympians has he helped coach, and what are his coaching/directing ethos.
Heart and Story of Tahoe XC
At the heart of Tahoe XC is outdoor recreation and the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Education Association’s (TCCSEA) youth programs. Watching the Olympics, you hear the stories of how athletes get their start in sport(s). Often, a passing interest, and a team, club, or program provide the impetus to explore. As the 2022 Olympics in Beijing have shown us, a cadre of North Tahoe kids learned that having fun can lead to great opportunities. Four Nordic athletes, who have grown up under the umbrella of Tahoe and Far West, are competing in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China. Competition was not the first focus when these kids were introduced to skiing. It is an incredible outcome that morphed from the ‘recreation’ that took them there.
Ben Joins Tahoe XC
Tahoe XC’s Executive Director, Ben Grasseschi, started his tenure here in 2017. His cross-country skiing career began in 3rd grade, where he explored the wind blown steppes of Idaho with his family. Ben fell in love with the sport yet knew nothing about racing. In college, Ben re-acquainted with cross-country skiing to stay in shape for “his sport” at the time- soccer. An injury forced him out of soccer and he started to race and focus on cross-country skiing. After college, he continued to pursue his skiing goals and moved to Mammoth where he met and trained with Olympian Nancy Fiddler. In exchange for receiving coaching, Ben coached the Mammoth HS and MS athletes and master skiers. Then, from 2000-2013, Ben coached for Auburn Ski Club (ASC) and Far West Nordic. He continues to coach today.
Coach Ben's Approach
As a coach, Ben fosters a “character first” ethos. One of his most memorable moments is what ended up being called ‘the hot seat.’ On all team van trips, an athlete would call “shotgun” for the privilege to sit in the passenger seat and play DJ. Usually it was an older athlete, but not always. Eventually the DJ seat morphed into the ‘hot seat’ as the athletes had a few minutes to talk about something on their mind. The conversations most often settled on relationships, sometimes politics, and, occasionally skiing. Teammates would offer their piece/peace in response to the ‘hot seat’ topic and the last few miles in the van, Coach Ben would summarize the bullet points and offer an elder perspective on the conversation. At first the athletes were reluctant to share, but that quickly changed to the athletes wanting to be in the ‘hot seat.’ The ‘hot seat’ was their moment to share, be heard, feel supported, and also listen.
Coach Ben with Olympian, JC Schoonmaker and the Boys
Runner up principal to Ben’s coaching is simply to have fun. “Having fun brings longevity to sport,” says Coach Ben. Julie Halvorsen, Olympian Hannah Halvorsen’s mom, recalls a story about Ben. It was at a competition, Super Junior National Qualifier (JNQ) and the race was a Sprint. Far West (FW) “NAILED the wax,” so much so that Nordic athletes, many of whom grew up alpine skiing were able to make this incredible “slingshot” move and pass all the other racers and move into first place on the last big downhill before coming into the stadium finish….in numerous heats! The athletes and parents remember it as an incredible day of victory for their little FW division and that came from Ben at the helm simply having fun waxing all while being a competitive coach.
Fun is the foundation. Fun brings you full circle and cultivates sport longevity; cross-country skiing is simply a form of it. Having athletes stay in the sport long enough to be competitive is one of Coach Ben’s legacies. We can feel, and see, this experience building in our first-time local Olympians, JC and Hannah, as well as 2018 and 2022 Olympian Joanne Reid who competes in biathlon, and Team Canada’s, 2018 Olympian Russell Kennedy, who was also one of the guides for visually impaired skier, and multi-gold medalist, Brian McKeever, in the 2018 Paralympic Games. Russell and Brian will compete together again, later this month in the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Hard Work & Play
The connection between Tahoe XC and Ben was a natural fit. Well ensconced, in the local and national cross-country skiing community, what he may have lacked in a traditional Executive Director skillset, Ben brought by way of his coaching ethos, network, and knowledge of the industry. When asked about his coaching style, Ben laughs and responds, “structured-free form.” He carries this same approach to the year-round outdoor youth programs at Tahoe XC and for TCCSEA. Marty Schoonmaker, Olympian JC Schoonmaker’s mom, sums it up best, “Ben helped foster JC’s work ethic. Ben fostered not just athletes but well rounded individuals. He took the time to learn about his athletes other interests which I think helped prevent burnout. The key factor was Ben always kept practice FUN. If it is fun you will continue to do it! Thus, you will keep skiing the rest of your life.”
At Tahoe XC, our hope is to keep skiing accessible and affordable so that kids can learn and experience the power (the fun) of outdoor recreation. We offer year-round youth programs that focus heavily on the “experience”, and less on results. We provide kids, adults, and families unique opportunities to have fun, be outside, and connect with each other. If you’re interested in learning more- get involved. Stop by Tahoe XC and learn ways that you can coach, volunteer, become a host or ambassador, and/or donate to our mission. Your involvement will help us continue to foster amazing athletes and great human beings…