Three-time Olympian and five-time U.S. National Champion Tommy Moe knows what it’s like to race in Aspen. After coming here to race for the first time in the mid-1980s (a NorAm downhill at Buttermilk), Moe returned for several World Cup races until the men’s downhill was moved to the notorious Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek. The downhill and super G specialist is best known for winning gold and silver in those disciplines, respectively, at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. (The subsequent Sports Illustrated cover touted him as the “Golden Boy”)
These days, as part-owner of Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Moe dons an avalanche beacon and airbag pack instead of a speed suit and rips down powder-choked couloirs rather than icy racecourses as he guides guests at the country’s ultimate heli-ski destination—that is, when he’s not serving as a ski ambassador for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, close to his Wyoming home.
A few weeks before the World Cup Finals hit Aspen, we had the chance to sit down with Moe in the luxe confines of his operation’s newly renovated lodge in the wilds of Alaska and reminisce about his days in Aspen and ski racing’s status today.
On his first Aspen World Cup
"It was in ’89, and we had a downhill on the classic Roch Cup track, over Ruthie's Run and into Aztec and Airplane Turn and Norway Island. I still remember all the names. It was a welcome feeling when I raced in Aspen."
Staying the course
"Aspen has a great downhill course, it has everything: great flow and some tricky sections. The first 30 seconds is mostly a glide, so you’re pretty much just in your tuck, trying to let your skis go. Then as soon as you come into Aztec, that’s where it gets pretty technical. It has some big turns as you drop over Aztec, then into the little face there [Spring Pitch], it’s really challenging. Then you go into the Airplane Turn. I raced some super G down that track, too. It’s a perfect course for speed events. I think my best finish there was the year AJ [Kitt]’s race got cancelled . I was sitting in, like, 6th place for it."
Ready for sandals and flip-flops
"I’d say the mental state [during the World Cup Finals] is probably more fatigue than anything. You’ve had the ups and downs of the whole season, and then there’s the drama of who’s going to win the globes. It was a relief, too, to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that you could actually take a break. It’s a pretty rigorous tour if you race every event. I raced mostly downhills and super Gs, and I was tired just from doing those speed events. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to have to race in every World Cup all season. I think some of [the athletes] are definitely ready to go to the beach after that."
State of the sport
"The X Games are a younger demographic, and that’s cool. If I was a young kid, that’s what I’d be keyed in on watching. But ski racing is still big, especially with stars like Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, and Ted Ligety. If you look at our history of past U.S. skiers, we’ve always had really good ones, whether Phil and Steve Mahre or Picabo Street or myself or AJ Kitt or Kyle Rasmussen or Bode Miller. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have more hardcore ski fans in the U.S."
The spectator's perspective
"The parallel ski events [i.e., the Nations Team head-to-head race] are fun to watch. I think it’s really cool to see that. Sometimes with GS and slalom, everybody’s so good now that it all looks kind of the same on TV. It’s different than 20 years ago, when the top 15 racers were the best, and after that the race was over. Now it’s like the top 40 or 50. The athletes are that much stronger, and there’s a lot of depth now. And equipment has gotten a lot better, with shorter slalom skis and tight radius GS skis."
Downhill’s the real deal
"I still get a big kick out of watching the speed events. They have the danger and the jumps and all the elements of a true extreme sport."
Buckled up at last
"I thought it was pretty neat that they gave away those aspen leaf belt buckles if you won the World Cup. I went back for the Ajax Cup fundraiser [for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club] six or seven years ago, skiing with Chris Davenport and Casey Puckett, and my team won. They gave me a belt buckle, which was pretty cool."