A born skier from Lebanon, N.H., LaCasse headed for the Rockies after high school and became a champion ski jumper for legendary coach Bob Beattie at Colorado. His first taste of coaching came at Colorado, where he became an assistant at the college that eventually would be a career-long nemesis.
But after getting his masters in physical education, LaCasse returned to New England, where he began coaching at Lebanon High School. Then he began his career at Vermont, which seems to him now like a quick schuss down the mountain.
''I know I'm not that old,'' he said, ''but then I look at all the years that haved piled up ... it's pretty amazing.''
In fact, LaCasse's career is inseparable from the rags-to-riches tale of the powerhouse Vermont skiing program itself. Well before LaCasse's time, in the 1950s, when the NCAA approved the first national collegiate championship, Dartmouth and Middlebury were the top guns in the East, with Vermont near the cellar most years.
Having skied for the top program in the country, LaCasse at first turned down Vermont when it offered him the assistant's job in 1969. ''After skiing with the best, I said no the first time,'' he said. But when his old friend, Dartmouth ski coach Al Merrill, convinced him to take the job, Merrill could not have known he was creating a monster that would topple his powerful program.
LaCasse had two problems, as he sized up Vermont's prospects in those days. First, it did not host a carnival, and so, in effect, did not have any home turf to race on. But a carnival took money and manpower to develop, so he had to sell the idea to the university, which he did in the mid-70s. But the team was so insignificant at that time, the big guns still didn't take it seriously.
''Al Merrill sent the Dartmouth B team,'' LaCasse said, ''because he wanted to rest his top team for other carnivals.''
That may have been the last time Vermont was not taken seriously. For LaCasse had focused on another, more serious problem - the flood of young ski racers out of the state. Olympians such as Billy Kidd, Rick Chaffee, and Rebel Ryan never considered staying home to ski at Vermont, instead skiing for Denver and Colorado.
LaCasse began his recruiting drive in the top New England programs, but found the Western tradition well-entrenched. ''Everyone wanted to go out West,'' he said. ''It was pretty discouraging.''
But along came one of Vermont's most famous ski dynasties, the Cochrans, whose patriarch, Mickey, founder of Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond, also raised four world-class ski racers - Barbara Ann (Olympic gold in slalom in 1972), Lindy (1976 Olympian), Marilyn (World Cup GS champion), and Bob, an Olympian who placed eighth in the downhill in 1972 and won the Austrian Hahnenkamm downhill - a feat that remained unequaled by an American until Daron Rahlves won the most prestigious downhill on the circuit.
Bobby Cochran not only became the draw that turned Vermont's program around, as a 4.0 GPA medical student he helped forge the image of the highly disciplined student-athlete.
''Bobby was essential to the development of our program,'' said LaCasse. ''He gave us almost instant credibility, a big drawing card.''
At times, LaCasse was forced to recruit skiers from overseas, and yet he always has scoured New England, Vermont especially. ''My goal is always to attract the best,'' he says. ''I never wanted to have a completely foreign team. I've wanted a blend so Vermont skiers have the best racers around them.''
During his tenure at UVM, LaCasse built the Catamount program into a national power, leading the Cats to six national titles, 10 runner-up finishes and a record 28 Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) championships. Named EISA Coach of the Year a record seven times, LaCasse’s skiers earned 44 individual NCAA titles and more than 250 All-America certificates during his remarkable 33-year run at UVM.