The Tao of Jonny Moseley

The Tao of Jonny Moseley

The Tao of Jonny Moseley


Jonny Moseley wants me to learn ski ballet. You know, that snow dance from the ’80s with the puffy shirts. We’re making our way down a groomer at the bottom of Telluride’s Prospect Bowl, fresh off of a steep, chunky bump line that I skied without any hint of grace. Imagine a dumpster on wheels, set loose and rattling through the bumps. Moseley thinks ski ballet could help, so he’s trying to teach me the “tin man.” It’s an entry level move, basically a flat spin on the snow, but you initiate the spin by pointing your skis in opposite directions, then bringing them together with a flourish. Preferably with jazz hands. The tin man looks effortless when Moseley demonstrates it—a single, fluid motion where for a brief moment, I believe he’s skiing in two directions at once. When I try it, it looks like I’m about to dislocate my hip. I’m stiff and janky, just like in the bumps earlier.

“Ballet takes so much practice,” Moseley says, “but if you can ski ballet, you can ski anything.”

If anyone else told me to start practicing ski ballet, I’d tell them to kick rocks, but this is Jonny Moseley talking here. Gold medalist, Real World host… Jonny Moseley who, back in the late ’90s, helped make skiing cool again. When this guy tells you to ski ballet, you put on the ruffled shirt and you ski ballet.

Prospect Bowl was just a shakedown run. I’m supposed to spend two days skiing with Moseley, and he wants to make sure he won’t have to babysit me the whole time. After Prospect Bowl, Moseley proceeds to take me on a tour de gnar of Telluride’s goods. He was the mountain’s ambassador for a couple of years, but that doesn’t keep him from mining the crowd for beta, striking up conversations with little kids and paid guides, alike. “Where you been skiing today? What’s good?” He’s charming and gregarious; if skiing didn’t work out, Moseley would’ve made a great salesman. His plan for tackling the mountain is fluid, moving with the suggestions thrown at him. It’s carefree and opportunistic at the same time. Such is the Tao of Jonny Moseley, a skier who has been able to stay relevant long after his contemporaries have been relegated to the history books.

It’s been snowing hard since daybreak, so each run is better than the last. We explore the trees below Plunge lift, using a natural ravine as a halfpipe through the well-spaced evergreens, and crush steep bumps below Revelation Bowl. By the time we stop for lunch, there are a few inches of fresh powder coating the entire mountain, and I’m pretty psyched I passed Moseley’s initial shakedown run.

Typically, my lunch on a powder day consists of a half-frozen energy bar and canned beer on the lift, but we decide to go European and spend an hour working through elk loin at Allred’s. It’s a fancy place, so we trade in our ski boots for slippers and start the après portion of our day early, ordering beers and a bottle of wine. We talk about our kids (Moseley has two young boys) and baseball, but really, having lunch with Jonny Moseley is just eating across the table from him while strangers butt in to tell Jonny Moseley stories: “You coached my son at a clinic 10 years ago,” or “I was in Nagano when you won gold.”

Moseley at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. Photo: Keoki Flagg

To be fair, it’s hard to forget Moseley’s gold medal-winning 360 mute grab from the ’98 Nagano Olympics. Compared to the rigid twisters of the day, Moseley’s languid, effortless helicopter with the grab was sublime and gave fans a glimpse of the freeskiing future. When everyone thought snowboarding would take over the world, Moseley showed us that skiing was still cool.

“It was good timing,” Moseley says. “Things were changing with the new generation of skiers who were starting to land tricks backwards and perform off-axis rotations. I was able to adapt pretty easily because of my training in ballet skiing and aerials.”

As impressive as his ’98 Olympic performance was, Moseley is probably best known for not winning gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics with an even more mind-blowing trick, the “dinner roll,” a variation of the cork 7. The judges scored it poorly, but fans loved it, and the fourth-place finish only improved Moseley’s reputation. As far as American ski fans were concerned, Moseley sacrificed gold to advance the sport.

“It’s not as black and white as that,” Moseley says. “I never thought I was going to lose. I honestly thought the trick was so good, the judges would have to give me gold.”

Shortly after that second Olympics, Moseley parlayed a Saturday Night Live hosting gig into a job with MTV and never looked back. When I catch up with him in Telluride, he’s prepping for the new Warren Miller film, which will take him to Iceland. He narrates those perennial movies and has been tasked with carrying on the Warren Miller tradition in the wake of the titular founder’s death. He also has his own YouTube-based show where he adventures with various pro athletes (kayaking waterfalls with Rush Sturges, sailing catamarans with Team Red Bull). While many athletes falter after peaking, Moseley seems to be just as in-demand now as when he was fresh off the Olympics as a twenty-something.

“Making the most of that gold medal became the game,” Moseley says. “I’m a bit opportunistic, so I just moved with things. SNL to MTV to my own show…one thing led to another.”

Moseley with Telluride Helitrax. Photo: Mount Gay Rum

It sounds like a carefree surfer-dude approach to life, but Moseley worked his ass off to reach the Olympics (search “Moseley dry-land training” on Google) and trained hard to become the on-camera personality he is today. The Tao of Jonny Moseley might seem carefree, bouncing from one opportunity to the next, but he dedicates himself to the opportunities that come his way. This weekend, Moseley’s Tao has led him to a makeshift helicopter pad deep in the San Juan Mountains to ski with Helitrax heli-ski guides and shoot content for one of his new sponsors, Mount Gay Rum.

The helicopter drops us at 12,000 feet on a broad meadow, the gray, rocky peaks of the San Juans forming a ring around us. We work through progressively tougher runs, starting with wide open turns over mellow terrain that has us bouncing through thigh-deep fluff. Over the course of the day, we systematically carve tracks in a half dozen slopes that form a broad bowl funneling down to an old mining camp, finishing with a tricky couloir that has us jumping a landslide scar. At one point, we bootpack up the skinny edge of a peak, and Moseley throws his medal-winning 360 mute grab off the cornice. It’s a mundane trick by today’s standards, but watching Moseley stick it in this terrain is like seeing a lion take down prey in the wild.

Mount Gay is a fitting sponsor for Moseley because the guy can après-ski like a madman. After landing the helicopter at the base of Telluride, we move directly into mixing rum drinks on a patio, which leads to a steak dinner and more drinks, then post-dinner beers at a karaoke bar.

At some point in the night, I corner Moseley and beg for ski advice. I don’t want to ski bumps like a dumpster on wheels. I want to ski bumps like Moseley. Turns out, his approach to skiing moguls is a lot like his approach to life: Look ahead and seize every opportunity.

“Everyone waits too long before they initiate the turn on a bump,” Moseley says. “They wait until they’re on top of the mogul, but by then, it’s too late. You need to start skiing down the backside of the mogul while you’re still skiing up the front side. It’s all about timing and planning your next move.”

Maybe it’s all of the rum we’ve been drinking, but I take his mogul advice as legit self-help-aisle gold, and spend the rest of the night applying Moseley’s tip on timing bumps to every aspect of my life.

Moseley doesn’t give it another thought, though. He just wants to sing. The man is as serious about karaoke as he is about skiing powder. He’s full of energy when he starts laying down the verses to Gin and Juice, but random dudes keep jumping on stage to sing with the gold-medal winner. Moseley keeps yelling at the guys that they’re screwing up the song, but he’s not really angry. He’ll roll with the intrusions and make the most of it. Besides, he has several more songs already planned out. He’ll be here, singing, until the bar closes. He’ll outlast all these guys.

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