Tess Johnson, 16, balances World Cup skiing, school and fundraising

Tess Johnson, 16, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team's freestyle C team, but to maintain her status as a pro mogul skier she needs to concentrate on fundraising as well as skiing.
Josh Himbury | The Australian Mogul Skiing Academy |

MINTURN — The theory is called periodization, and 16-year-old Tess Johnson is about to put it into practice.

Johnson is an Edwards resident and a junior at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, where she has maintained a 4.0 GPA for her first two years. She is also a member of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, competing in moguls events around the country. She’s hoping to start competing around the world this year, starting in December at the first World Cup of the season in Ruka, Finland. First, however, she needs to hit the books.

“It’s only going to get tougher this year,” Johnson said, “because I’m taking a couple of advanced courses. … I’m definitely in for a ride this year.”

Johnson just got back from Australia, where she was training with the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team during the winter season down under. The mix of concentrating hard on training before completely switching the focus to schoolwork is an example of periodization at work — intense training, followed by time away from that training.


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Through research and in working closely with top athletes, such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s new Executive Director Kirk Dwyer has become a firm believer in the practice of periodization for training the body and the mind.

“It doesn’t necessarily need to be four weeks of academics and then a week off,” said Dwyer. “It could be four weeks of academics, then a two-week ski camp, and then you go back to academics. That variety allows for growth.

“Both in cognitive development or learning and physical development, the underlying foundations and basis for how people learn or progress are very similar,” he added.

Johnson says she’s excited to have Dwyer on board.

“I completely agree with his philosophy on (periodization),” Johnson said. “School has always been one of my main priorities regardless of how I’m doing in skiing, and I think it’s made me a better skier, just being able to focus on something else and learning discipline in the classroom.”


With school and athletics taken care of, Johnson has one more area on which she needs to focus a period of her time — fundraising.

“It’s great to be on the U.S. Ski Team, but as a C Team athlete, I’m completely unfunded,” she said. “I’m grateful for all the U.S. Team does for me, but there are many expenses that my family and I have to pay.”

She has become an expert in applying for scholarships and grants. She goes old-school — with yard-sale type events — and also uses newfangled crowd sourcing techniques online. This fall, she’s going to try to organize a sit-down dinner event where there will be a silent auction and a raffle. Stay tuned for that, she says.

“We haven’t figured out the details yet but it should be really great,” she said.

Johnson’s supporters include the T2 Foundation, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, the Marolt Athlete Endowment, the Vail Valley Foundation and the ID One Foundation.

“It will be my coaches’ decision whether to send me to Ruka or not,” she said. “And if I get to go to that, I’ll have to perform well to compete on the rest of the World Cup tour throughout January and February.”

The training went well this summer, which was the first test to get the Ruka spot, Johnson said.

“I went to Whistler in June and Park City in July,” before heading to Australia, she said. “Then in Australia we competed in the Australian nationals. … All of the World Cup teams from Canada and France and Japan were all there, so it was pretty cool to be competing against some of the best in the world.”

Against a tough field, Johnson took sixth.

“I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did,” she said.

The start to the World Cup season for mogul skiers will take place on Ruka’s famous Battery Run from Dec. 9-11.

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