By James Rose
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Dusan Grasic was about to move his family to California. His younger brother Jani, living in Incline Village on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, was setting up a new business distributing sporting equipment. Jani needed help. With an engineering degree in organizational informatics, Dusan was about to say yes. The year was 1995. He and his wife Katarina had just welcomed a newborn son, and their daughter had just turned five.

Hometown: Kranj, Slovenia
Age: 58
Hobbies: Motorcycling, hiking, family time
Occupation: Program Director, Windermere Valley Ski Club
Columbia Valley arrival: 1998

Four years before, Slovenia won its independence from Yugoslavia. The Ten Day War or the Slovenian War of Independence was a brief conflict following Slovenia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia at the end of June 1991. It was the second of the Yugoslav wars to start that year following the Croatian War of Independence. Both were part of the Yugoslav Wars, a series of separate but related ethnic conflicts, wars of independence, and insurgencies fought until 2001. It was a decade of flux for a newly independent region and its citizenry. 

Slovenia was the most developed republic in Yugoslavia. “When Slovenia went on its own, all the countries factories were coming back to their rightful owners,” Grasic said. Since the Second World War, Yugoslavia had nationalized all factories. “So there were some new jobs to be had for Slovenians, but then some jobs were also lost.” Angling toward the western European markets had its growing pains for the country.

Grasic was born and raised in the Slovenian Alp town of Kranj- the country’s third-largest city, about the size of Cranbrook. Picture cobblestone streets, medieval churches, and that’s Kranj. The city is located in the heart of a slew of ski resorts and is thirty minutes driving to the Austrian frontier. 

Naturally, Grasic grew up skiing and, by extension, ski racing. In Slovenia, ski racing is like hockey to Canadians, football to Americans. Grasic was a talented athlete. “If you were an athlete in a socialist country, life was great. Slovenia wanted to promote their politics by investing in sport.” Grasic went as far as the Europa Cup circuit, one step below the World Cup. But after an injury dashed Grasic’s hopes as a champion racer, he enrolled himself in university.

His passion for the sport of ski racing never left him. While studying, Grasic began coaching. “My first job was as an assistant coach at the club where my brother raced,” Grasic said. When his brother moved to the national team, Grasic followed, becoming a Slovenian Europa Cup team coach.

For the next few years, Grasic coached. By 1995, he was ready for a change. “We considered going to California more as an adventure rather than for economic reasons,” he said. Things changed one Tuesday when Grasic received a phone call from a Bruce Goldsmith from B.C. 

Goldsmith introduced himself as the head of BC Alpine – the governing body of B.C.’s provincial ski racing program. “He offered me a job to be the head coach of the B.C. Ski Team,” Grasic said. “He gave me until Thursday to give him a decision.” Goldsmith was in search of a new head coach for his team and was recommended Grasic by a fellow Slovenian ski racing expat in Canada. “We thought about it decided to try it for a year.” Dusan made it to Kelowna by Thursday. He barely spoke English.

For the first three years, the Grasic family was based in Whistler because that was where the B.C. Ski Team was based. “But we’d wake up to half a foot of powder each morning,” Grasic said. Conditions unsuitable for training as a ski racer. “My first year coaching, we came out to Panorama for pre-season training and Christmas-time racing. I knew right away that Panorama was where we needed to be.” 

To Grasic, Panorama was (and remains) the world’s best mountain for racers to train. North facing slope, cold, hard and a welcoming, accommodating management.

In 1998, Grasic made Panorama a reality. “We found billets for the team and moved out here in August.” The first cohort of B.C. Ski Team athletes based in Panorama included future Olympians Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Christina Lustenburger, World Cupper Robbie Dixon and future national slalom champ Munroe Hunsicker. “It was a great group of kids, and Brad Brush [Panorama’s then director of mountain operations] and I got along great.” Grasic and his family have lived in Invermere ever since. “From day one, the community gave us a warm welcome. We love it here.”