Tess Johnson prepping for first World Cup race; you can help | VailDaily.com

Tess Johnson prepping for first World Cup race; you can help

EAGLE COUNTY — At the age of 14, Tess Johnson last year was finding out she was becoming the youngest person ever to make the U.S. Ski Team's Freestyle Team.

This year, she's gearing up for her first World Cup start in Ruka, Finland, in December, and according to her coach, it should be the first of many.

"I'm really excited," Johnson, a junior at the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, said. "I'll be one of the youngest ones there, so that will be special. Just to represent my country and travel with the other World Cup athletes is a huge honor."

As a member of the C Team, Tess' World Cup expenses are not funded and she, along with her family, are responsible for everything from plane flights to hotels.

“She’s worked really hard, got her skills up and is working on getting her run up to that World Cup level. We had a couple spots become available and she was without question the decision of the staff to move up and give her an international World Cup opportunity, her first, in Ruka, Finland, in December.”Matt GnozaU.S. Freestyle Team head coach

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"As you can imagine, those trips add up," her mom, Carol Johnson, said.

It's going to take a village to help this bright young woman travel the world with the best of the best in ski moguls, and Sunday is an opportunity to support Tess' first appearance on the World Cup stage.

Northside Coffee & Kitchen and Benderz Burger in Avon are hosting a Tess FriendRaiser to help ease some of the costs of the upcoming races.

There will be a silent auction with items including courtside tickets to a Denver Nuggets game. In addition, 40 percent of the evening's proceeds at the restaurants will be given to Tess.

"That's super generous of Northside," Tess said. "I'm really thankful for their support."

2018 Winter Olympics

If Tess continues down this path, there might be more Tess FriendRaisers in the future.

"She's worked really hard, got her skills up and is working on getting her run up to that World Cup level," U.S. Freestyle Team coach Matt Gnoza said. "We had a couple spots become available and she was without question the decision of the staff to move up and give her an international World Cup opportunity, her first, in Ruka, Finland, in December."

While it's her first World Cup race, Gnoza has high expectations for the young bumps burner.

A strong season for Tess could result in qualifying for the World Championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, which would be a great Olympic prep, her coach said. If she can build off momentum from her rookie season, then she can take that into next season's qualifiers for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"I don't think it's out of the realm of possibilities for her by any means," Gnoza said of the 2018 Winter Games. "For her to get a start in Ruka this December says a lot about how we feel about her potential."

On the 10-member Freestyle Team, Tess is competing with her peers, many of them older than her, to advance in the sport, with the top four making up the Olympic squad normally.

The first time mogul skiing was in the Olympics was 1992 in Albertville, France. Steamboat native Nelson Carmichael earned bronze in that first event, and the U.S., along with Canada, led the international mogul competitions, with Australia a distant third.

"I never had a shot to go to the Olympics," said Mike Young, who raced professionally before moguls were added to the Games, "so hopefully Tess will make it to the Olympics through these types of fundraisers."

LIFE OF A PRO

Young competed in the 1980s in the Rocky Mountain amateur division before turning professional.

He remembers the Bud Tour, the Coors Light Tour and the Saab Tour, as well as scrapping for his own sponsorships. With the winter spent skiing competitively and training, the summers weren't quite as fun for Young.

"I used to work all summer because I wouldn't work all winter, I would just compete," he said of his professional career. "I can say I skied for a living, but it was basically just to get to the next spring to get back to next winter."

If the skiing thing doesn't work out for Tess, then the next fundraiser might be for some new soccer cleats. Johnson has won two state titles with Vail Mountain School in her first two seasons.

With so much room for activities, Tess is still responsible for keeping up with her schoolwork at VSSA, which can interfere with her ski racing.

"It always does," she said. "The school is really flexible with my traveling schedule, so they've been very supportive. I'll have to do a bunch of online work while I'm away, so I definitely have my work cut out for me."

Northside's healthy portions and the Benderz milkshakes are great reasons to show up today, but helping Tess achieve a dream is the real mission of the night.

"I'm just really thankful for everyone's support," she said. "It means a lot to me."

Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

If you go …

What: Tess FriendRaiser.

Where: Northside Coffee & Kitchen and Benderz Burgers, Avon.

When: Sunday, 5 p.m.

More information: There will be a silent auction, and 40 percent of proceeds from the restaurants will go toward Tess Johnson’s travel fund for her upcoming World Cup race and possibly more.