Catching Up With Olympian Tess Johnson

By: Tess Johnson

I hope this blog finds everyone healthy and happy after the holiday season! After traveling Europe for all of November and December right up until Christmas Eve, I spent the holidays surrounded by friends and family in the Vail Valley. There really is no better place to spend this time of year! We skied Vail mountain all week (and even caught Blue Sky Basin on its opening day), walked through the village to pop in all the iconic shops and restaurants, hiked in the snow with our yellow lab, Kenzy, and shared many delicious meals together as a family. I’m incredibly fortunate to call this place home and to spend every holiday season here in the mountains. 

As I mentioned before, my Stifel U.S. Freestyle Mogul Ski Team teammates and I just finished the first part of our competitive season in Europe. Beginning in early November, we traveled to Finland, Sweden, France, and Georgia (yes, Georgia the country) for the first seven World Cup events of the FIS Freestyle Moguls World Cup Tour. This trip was one of the most enjoyable trips of my entire career, and I can honestly say this is the most fun I’ve had training and competing in years! After having back surgery in the spring right here in the Vail Valley at the Steadman Clinic, I put my blood, sweat, and tears into returning to what I love most: competitive mogul skiing. This was my first big injury, and while there were many tough days, I’m ultimately quite grateful for the lessons I learned about resilience and work ethic. Injuries are almost inevitable in my sport, and I’m thrilled to say I’ve made a full recovery and am back feeling better than ever, both mentally and physically. 

Our trip began in Levi, Finland where we had a brief training block to kick it all off. We trained in a few inches of fresh snow everyday, saw the Northern Lights in freezing cold temperatures, and even got to cheer on Mikaela Shiffrin, Paula Moltzan, and the rest of the Stifel U.S. Alpine Women’s Ski Team! (Side note: Paula Moltzan was a senior at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy when I was a 6th grader, and of course Mikaela is from the Valley as well – it’s so cool to see all of us Vail athletes come full circle together all the way across the globe!) We rarely cross paths with other disciplines on tour so this was a real treat to experience the alpine side of things from the stands – those slalom skiers left my jaw dropped!

After our time in Levi, we drove South across the Arctic Circle to Ruka, Finland where we celebrated Thanksgiving together with all the homemade traditional dishes and then began our competitive season. I was thrilled with my first performance back from surgery and extra proud of my teammates who took ⅔ of the podium spots. My runs only improved from there as I took 4th place the next weekend in Idre Fjall, Sweden and another 4th place in Alpe D’Huez, France the following weekend. Results aside, I’m ecstatic with the way I’m skiing, especially given the spine surgery I had. 

 I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t take a moment to honor our team. We are currently the number one ranked nation for both single and dual moguls and that is a testament to our collective (staff included) perseverance, passion, and work ethic. Our women’s team specifically has been the best in the world for many years now, and we are especially dominant this season. We’ve had at least one U.S. woman on the podium and at least three in the six-person super final in every event so far. We currently have six ladies ranked in the top ten overall rankings for the FIS World Cup Tour, and most importantly, we have the most fun together. Seeing as though any one of us can be on the podium, we are ultimately one another’s biggest competitors for events like the Olympics and World Championships. While there are no Olympics or World Championships this season, it will surely be a battle for the four spots when the time comes. However, at the end of the day, our sisterhood has always transcended competition, and they are the reason my time on this trip was filled with laughter and good memories. 

In fact, our travel moments off the hill are some that I’m sure to remember for the rest of my life. We enjoyed a lakeside sauna experience in Rovaniemi, Finland (Santa’s Village is here) where we alternated between sizzling in a steaming sauna hut and breathlessly dipping into a frozen lake. We went to a Christmas opera in Oslo, Norway where we witnessed the real deal “Carol of the Bells”, “O’ Holy Night” and Norwegian Christmas classics in person. After one of my teammate’s first ever World Cup podium, we celebrated with a true French Alps aprės experience on top of an alpen glowed Alpe D’Huez at sunset. And finally – perhaps my all-time favorite moment from the trip – we had a World Cup tour-wide ping pong tournament at our hotel in Georgia to fill an off-day. One of my teammates created a bracket (just like the ones we use on dual days) that included members from every country and we spent hours competing in something completely different than mogul skiing! It felt so wholesome to bond over a universal game off the hill, and it started friendships on tour for which I’m very grateful. 

I will always remember this trip and am eternally thankful for partnerships like mine with the Inn that allow me to pursue this beautiful life. Training is about to resume for me here in Utah; let’s all hope for some snow! Enjoy the winter, ski hard, and stay safe! Thank you so much for reading.