Tess Johnson - How and why I got started skiing moguls
The Inn at Riverwalk's Resident Athlete, Tess Johnson, answers the most commonly asked question of her. How did you get started skiing and why moguls?
The most frequent question I get asked is, “How did you get into mogul skiing?” Especially for people who aren’t skiers, mogul skiing is one of the last sports that parents would get their kids into. Well, not my mom. At least, not on purpose.
I started skiing with my family when I was two years old at the bunny hill on Beaver Creek. I think it’s pretty special that my parents taught me how to do the thing that makes me the happiest. My mom tells me I started carving way before I should have known how, and I remember bombing down Arrowhead’s steep “Cresta” run at the age of five. I was destined to be a skier. The next year, my parents signed me up for “Beavo”, Beaver Creek’s development program, and I won the Beavo lottery.
My group was all boys except my best friend at the time, Anna. The boys were total goofballs licking chairlift poles and putting mustard on their mac’n’cheese. Anna and I didn’t mind though, because we giggled uncontrollably right along with them. We knew we could hang with the boys, in fact most of the time, they chased us around the mountain. But the best part of being in that group, was our coach, Pete Howe. Besides my parents, Pete is the reason why I love skiing so much. Everyday was about catching air, hitting cliffs, and skiing as fast as we could. He made us laugh like crazy telling stories about funny crashes, and he always had our backs. Skiing with Pete was nothing short of a blast every weekend.
Our group’s favorite run was “Coyote Glade” on Bachelor Gulch. It starts in an open aspen glade on a pump track that winds back and forth with mini jumps. As the trees get thicker, the pitch gets steeper, and if you know your way around, there’s a secret cliff off to the left. It traverses right and then veers left, back down the fall line to an open mogul field right under the chair lift. Ironically, this used to be my least favorite part of the run. It ends with a big catwalk jump where we’d all line up and hit it one at a time, squealing louder as each kid caught more air than the last. We lapped Coyote Glade for hours, finding new trees to dodge and bigger kickers to launch. Even after all these years, with a few less trees and seemingly smaller features, it brings me the biggest smile out of all the runs on Beaver Creek.
Pete was my hero. He taught us that skiing is about so much more than what meets the eye. Whenever I get frustrated with training, I remember Pete and all the laughter and imagination he introduced to my skiing. It’s easy to forget after thousands of laps on the same run trying to perfect a run that actually can never be perfect. But my passion for skiing is rooted so deep within me, it will never go away. I have Pete to thank for that, and for making skiing the greatest joy in my life.
After skiing with Pete, Anna, and the boys for three years, it was time to move on: I wanted to compete. Not only was I destined to be a skier, I was destined to be a competitor. Unfortunately, I had no interest in Beaver Creek’s competitive team because they were alpine racers. I couldn’t understand how skiing without jumping could be entertaining. So, my mom signed me up for the slopestyle Vail Cup(Ski and Snowboard Club Vail hosts Vail Cups featuring different disciplines throughout the winter to bring kids to their programs). I was stoked right up until the night before the event. I begged and cried for my mom to take me out of the competition. I was consumed by nightmarish nerves (something I still battle today), and I just couldn’t bear the thought of skiing in front of judges. I was an avid soccer player, but something about all the pressure being on me was too much to handle. This temper tantrum went on for a few hours, but my mom stood her ground: I was going to compete. My mom simply wasn’t going to let me blow off a commitment I’d made weeks before. I haven’t acknowledged this until now, but I’m eternally grateful for the tough love she showed me that night.
The next day, I thought I was going to throw up riding Chair 6 with my mom. My mind was spinning like a merry-go-round gone rogue, and I wasn’t entirely confident I’d be able to get off the chairlift properly. We ascended the first hill and there it was: the terrain park. My jaw dropped as I gaped at the massive 35-foot jumps. Before I could take my next breath I heard my mom say, “See? Honey, you can do those! I’ve seen you hit way bigger jumps.” I whipped my head around to see what the hell she was talking about, and I spotted the white tent and plastic judges table below three miniature kickers. The jumps were so tiny I didn’t even notice them!
“Oh,” I scoffed with a grin, completely forgetting the fear I was enveloped in two seconds earlier. “I can do those!” And I did. And I won! I won my first ever ski competition with a straight-air, a mule kick, and a straight-air. A mule kick was the one trick I knew how to do, in fact it was probably the only one I knew existed besides many failed 360 attempts from my Beavo days. Pete taught me how to do a mule kick, and I loved them. I still do them off every park jump and cat-walk whoopty doo I can find. My mom and I didn’t stay for the awards ceremony; we didn’t even know there was one. On the drive home we got a call from our friends who were members of the club saying that I had won, and I couldn’t believe it. I was already full of pride and joy for conquering my fear of competing, and it turned out I was actually decent too. I competed in a few more freeride Vail Cups that season (Big Air and Rail Jam) and ended on the podium for those as well. I wanted so badly to be on the competitive slopestyle team. My mom tried to sign me up but unfortunately, nine years old was too young. I was devastated, but it all worked out in the end.
My mom signed me up to try out the next closest thing: “Bumps and Jumps”. I showed up with my K2 twin tips and neon orange Burton jacket ready to catch as much air as possible. Instead, we skied moguls. All. Day. We finished the nearly eight-hour day with a few “Highline” laps on Chair 10. There’s never a line at this chairlift because it’s all moguls, and “Highline” is the gnarliest bump run I’ve ever skied. I still can’t ski it top to bottom! I had so much fun that day I didn’t even realize we didn’t ski the park a single time. I was so caught up in the bumps, I forgot all about the jumps. I got home and told my mom, “We skied moguls all day!” She frowned.
“I’m sorry sweetie, the program title had ‘jumps’ in it! We’ll figure something else out.” I shook my head barely able to contain my excitement.