US Ski Team’s Tess Johnson looks back on challenging moguls season that reignited her “flame”
With 2022 Olympics looming, “It’s kind of exciting to have this new flame in me”
Like the moguls she skis, this World Cup season was a bit bumpy for the U.S. Ski Team’s Tess Johnson, but the West Vail resident handled it with amazing grace and grit. After starting the season ranked 10th in the world in moguls skiing, Johnson finished the World Cup circuit sixth as the U.S. Ski Team’s moguls squad won the Nations Cup as the best team in the world — for the third year in a row.
“I’m so thankful and grateful that the season happened,” Johnson said from Kazakhstan following the season finale, dealing with a COVID-19 situation within the hotel delaying her return to Colorado. “It really wasn’t looking good, and each event and each week even was just up in the air.”
The World Cup was able to put on seven moguls competitions, with the final canceled due to fog.
“That was more than we expected,” Johnson said of this year’s World Cup events in Europe. “It was the most challenging and tiring season because of all the COVID obstacles and other obstacles even though we weren’t traveling as much or competing as much, it was really challenging. But I’m really grateful.”
After finishing third in the 2019 World Cup, Johnson said last season was a little disappointing. She made a commitment to herself before this season to give the sport more and train harder. (Johnson, 20, joined the U.S. Ski Team at age 14.)
Her dedication paid off.
Johnson added an entirely different tricks package this year, doing away with the 360 she had been doing since she was 9 years old. She replaced the 360 package with some backflip grabs — her signature being a beautiful backflip venom grab. In addition to finishing sixth at the end of the season, Johnson finished fifth on Day 2 at the world championships, the best of any American. In all of her competitions this season, Johnson finished top 10 in all of them but one — when she finished 11th. She finished third in February’s dual moguls in Deer Valley — helping the Americans sweep the podium for the first time.
“To see that pay off, to go from world rank 10th to sixth is monumental for me and my progress,” Johnson said. “I’m just really proud of myself for the work that I put in and the progress I made, even though there’s more to be made.”
Her next big trick project to incorporate into competition is a cork 720, she said. (As if skiing down moguls isn’t hard enough, let’s throw in two full rotations off a jump in the middle of them.)
Usually this time of year after a long season, Johnson would be looking forward to some time off. But not this year — 2022 is an Olympics year.
“I feel ready to get back in training as soon as I’m recovered from this trip, which I would imagine will be in April,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting to have this new flame in me to get back to training and get back to progressing for next year — which is obviously a huge one.”
Johnson is planning on training this spring on Vail Mountain, where she regularly trained while in high school at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and part of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
“It was incredible,” Johnson said of her time with the local ski club. “I credit SSCV and all of their resources and coaching, specifically, for a lot of my success.”
She credits SSCV coaches John Dowling and Riley Campbell as two of the main reasons she made the U.S. Ski Team in the first place.
“They are so knowledgeable about mogul skiing. They’re so passionate,” she said. “I feel so lucky that Riley Campbell is now a U.S. Ski Team coach. They continually put athletes on the U.S. Ski Team. Even the athletes that don’t make it onto the U.S. Ski Team are great skiers and they love the sport. I think that’s the most important thing that the SSCV moguls program creates a passion for the sport, so I’m just really honored and proud to come from SSCV.”
Johnson also enjoys the camaraderie she’s found on the U.S. Ski Team.
“I think we have a lot of leadership on our team who have shown what it means to be a part of a team in an individual sport, and how we can still come together to produce the best results individually and as a team,” she said.
While the season was different than any other due to the global pandemic, Johnson is proud of her results, representing Team USA as well as Eagle County.
“It was tough to navigate, but we’re all professionals on the U.S. Ski Team,” she said. “I think my team, myself included, handled it with grace. And we really did a great job with it.”