A Legend Departs

Alpine ski coach Branko Zagar resigns from SNC

Branko Zagar leaves a strong legacy as head alpine ski coach and athletic director at SNC Tahoe.

Branko Zagar leaves a strong legacy as head alpine ski coach and athletic director at SNC Tahoe.

Zoe Tuttle, Editor

After a successful 11-year run at Sierra Nevada College, athletic director and head alpine ski coach Branko Zagar has left to pursue a new challenge as race director at Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Since 2006, when Zagar started as alpine coach, at least one of the ski teams has brought home hardware every year. In addition to serving as ski coach, Zagar has been SNC’s athletic director since 2011. Although Zagar said he loved his home in Nevada and did not have any interest in leaving, the position in Jackson Hole was an opportunity he could not ignore.

Zagar’s quick departure raises questions about the future of the ski program. Zagar, a Slovenian standout during his younger racing days, attracted a pipeline of top European skiers to the shores of Incline Village. At any given time, his ski team athletes constituted the majority of SNC Tahoe’s international students. Over the years, the ski team has attracted students from Germany, Austria, France, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and New Zealand. This year’s class of incoming athletes were taken aback by the news. Emma Stenvall, a new student at SNC and new to the United States, is part of the 2018 cohort of European ski racers.

“It was because of Branko that I was able to come here. I had thought about coming to the U.S., and I had a few friends that had come here,” she said. “I started e-mailing some different ski coaches and Branko responded and he got me a scholarship.”

Now Stenvall is concerned that she will be skiing in a program that doesn’t have a coach of Zagar’s caliber.

“Statistically, not having a coach can be very difficult,” she said. The coach sets the vision for the team, manages courses and schedules, and brings structure for the athletes’ training, travel and, most importantly, academics. Another concern is that the team will no longer have a strong international connection.

Other students see Zagar’s departure as an opportunity.

“I don’t think that any coach should also be the athletic director,” said Tyler Rayman, a former SNC soccer team member. “It can make things really unfair. I don’t know the real facts and figures, but it always seemed like the ski team got the most money.”

“I think this is a good time for the school to really separate and make the athletic director job its own position,” Rayman said. “If any coach is in that position, someone is going to think it’s unfair. I think it’s just the best move to hire someone who will look after all teams without having a personal connection to any.”

Currently Chris DeLeon, the head coach for men’s and women’s soccer, is serving as the interim athletic director while the college looks to hire someone for the position. DeLeon said he doesn’t intend to show favoritism toward any of the sports teams at SNC.

“My current attitude is ‘head down and let’s go.’ I don’t want the athletic department to fail or fall behind on my watch,” DeLeon said. “I’ve spoken to all the coaches and they know where I stand in my passion for all sports. I want to assist them in how to recruit.”