Difference Maker: Tess Johnson
She’s been known to fly down the slopes—literally catching air as she flips, crossing the finish line with an understated fist pump in the air. She makes it look effortless but it’s far from easy. Tess Johnson, Olympic athlete, Vail native and Girl PowHER spokes(wo)man is a young person who is dedicated to not only being the best in her sport, but to helping others be the best they can be.
Tess first started hitting the bumps when she was nine. She wasn’t quite old enough to be a slope-style skier so her mom, Carol, did a bit of research and found out about Ski and Snowboard Club’s bumps and jumps program. Tess was hooked. Five years later, at the age of 14 when she was tearing it up on singles and dual moguls, she became the youngest skier to make the US Freestyle Moguls Team.
She travels the globe focusing on her career. But she’s just as passionate about encouraging girls to get involved in sports. She works with YouthPower365’s Girl PowHER program, hanging out with girls, listening to them, encouraging them—just being a role model.
“Generally one of most important things to me is inspiring [girls]. The more we can support and encourage each other, especially from older role model perspective, the stronger these younger girls can be,” Tess says just before she left for her five-week tour that included competing in Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sweden and Tahoe.
Tess, being one of the younger girls on the team, didn’t have a ton of older role models but thinks it’s important to have that female camaraderie. “As society, we’re changing and women are voicing opinions more. We are supporting each other more and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Tess is inspiring with her hard work and positive attitude but also through her voice. She was involved with The High Costs, a campaign to educate young people about the negative impact pot can have on their entire life: social, physical, emotional. An Olympic athlete obviously cannot lose her edge by being high—she flies high through her own power. But Tess passionately talks about why pot is a bad choice and how it negatively impacts the developing brain. Her message is clear, “Did you know that using marijuana underage can make you 7 times more likely to become depressed? Being outside makes me so happy, I'm not gonna sacrifice that for anything,” she shared earlier this year.
“11,570 feet of elevation with these views is definitely high enough, so I choose a drug free life to help me train to be the best athlete I can be,” she mentioned as she pedaled to the top of Vail Mountain.
“It’s so important in my position, staying healthy is so important for me. I’m raising that awareness; the facts of marijuana, kids don’t know the facts, they get peer pressured into doing. It’s important to raise awareness,” she adds.
Tess wants to make an impact and feels it’s almost her duty, to encourage and engage, to listen and learn. She looked up to Gabby Douglas, sees Lindsey Vonn make an impact with the Lindsey Vonn Foundation and knows she is a role model… and definitely a positive one at that.
“It’s important to take the time to do something more than just skiing,” Tess says. And she’s doing just that.