Moguls Skier Tess Johnson on Staying Motivated and Finding Balance
Juggling school, family, friends, and sports is no walk in the park. It's a familiar dance for many parents and kids in Park City. With dedication and hard work, however, it can all pay off. Eighteen year-old moguls skier Tess Johnson of Vail, CO is proof of that. She became the youngest moguls skier to ever be named to the U.S. national team in 2014 at just fourteen years olds and one of six 17 year-olds to compete for Team USA in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang this past winter. Already on snow in Switzerland, we caught up with Johnson to find out how she's managed to find balance, stay motivated, and push herself to new levels.
What was it like being named to the national team at such a young age and how did you manage to balance your training with school, family, and friends?
Although it's one of my greatest skiing accomplishments to date, being named to the team was actually a huge surprise. It was a discretion spot and my NorAm Grand Prix results put me next in line. The next girl closest to my age was four years older than me. It was really hard at first to transition from my domestic team to the national team, but it essentially just took a lot of confidence in myself and my skiing to believe that it's where I belong. Since then, competitions for me have started in early December and ended in early April. I wasn't home at all during this time, so I created a system with school where I worked with the ski academy I attended to lighten my work load on the road. It made for stressful times after a trip or ski season because I was always really behind, but I stayed disciplined enough to get it all done and graduate second in my class.
What does a typical training day/week look like for you in the winter?
Typical training weeks for me in the winter are two three-day ski blocks with a day off in between. My days start pretty early in the morning, usually 7 a.m. I'll get to the mountain, spend about 15 minutes warming up my body and then spend about three-four hours skiing. On the hill, I ski flat runs to start, then move to the mogul course where we ski moguls and hit jumps. After skiing, I'll do some type of recovery, it could be a light ride or run, yoga, stretching, or light soccer. On the day before a day off, I do a strength workout in the gym.
What are your favorite ways to cross-train during the summer season? Do you follow any specific routine or do targeted exercises?
I love playing soccer, mountain and road biking, and generally being active outside. Soccer was my second sport all through high school and I've found it has helped me with my speed and athleticism on the hill skiing. The footwork that soccer requires has helped me recover from mistakes that happen on the mogul course. While I don't follow a specific routine, all of these activities have contributed to my success as a freestyle skier and they're really fun! Excluding these activities, I spend about 30-40 hours a week training; this includes skiing, water ramping, working out in the gym, sports psychology practices, and recoveries.
How do you prevent burnout and keep yourself motivated when you don’t feel like training?
It's hard because I tend to get mentally and/or physically exhausted from my sport. However, I always dig deep to find a higher level of intensity to get in a good training session. Training with a bit of fatigue has actually improved my skills in the long run and helped me during the competition season, which can be incredibly long and exhausting with all the international travel. So, I'll remind myself of these benefits, which helps my motivation. I also like to eat power gummies or gels to give myself a burst of energy.
Moguls are scary for a lot of skiers, what's your advice for someone who has never tried but wants to ski them? How about someone who wants to hit steeper moguls?
Give it a try! Moguls may look scary and difficult, but they're actually really fun, especially on a powder day. Just make sure to really focus on keeping your legs mobile with active absorptions. A common mistake is stiffening up--I do this all the time--but the key is to stay relaxed enough to access a deep range of movement in your legs and hips. Lastly, keep those eyes up. For those skiers who can already ski moguls but want to hit steeper terrain, you'll do great! Since the run is steeper, remember to adjust your upper body angle to match the pitch so you don't get back seat. Feel your toes in the front of your boots and push your knees over your toe pieces to get extra forward.
Do you have any advice for other young athletes who want to be professional athletes?
Believe in yourself 100 percent and wear that belief proudly on your sleeve. A lot of my success happened at a young age compared to other freestyle mogul skiers and I think a large part of it is due to my confidence and perseverance. Although I have come across many obstacles in my career, I have never let them stand in my way. Set a goal for yourself, work hard to achieve that goal, and, most importantly, have faith that you will achieve that goal.
It's going to be another busy season for Johnson, who is excited to be competing on the World Cup circuit in Japan, Finland, China, Kazakstan, Lake Placid, and Canada. If all goes well, we'll see her competing in Utah this February during the 2019 FIS World Championships which will be hosted by Park City Mountain, Deer Valley, and Solitude Resort.