PARK CITY, Utah — It was a magical night on Deer Valley’s Champions moguls course. At least for Team USA.
In front of a roaring J-waving crowd (big J’s on sticks, for Jaelin) and under a heavy snowfall, Jaelin Kauf and Tess Johnson — two best friends on the U.S. moguls team — beat one world champion after another in the 2019 world champion dual moguls contest. By the end of finals, Kauf claimed the silver medal and Johnson the bronze.
“All year, we’ve been swapping back and forth [with world cup podium finishes],” said Kauf, who has had three world cup podiums this season, with Johnson collecting two. “We were really hoping to get that podium together. It was incredible to be able to get on that podium with her, really wanted that.”
The only world champion whom they couldn’t pass was Perrine Laffont from France who successfully defended her dual moguls world title from 2017. Laffont is also the reigning Olympic moguls champion. And Kauf, one of the fastest moguls skiers in the world, did technically beat her to the line by a significant gap in the gold-medal duel. But Perrine skied cleanly and scored more points for her two airs and her turns. Laffont’s score of 84.74 was very close to Kauf’s 82.59.
“Standing at the bottom watching the replay, with the big gap on time, I definitely thought that I beat her, so I’m not exactly sure what happened in the judging,” said Kauf. “But it’s duals. Anything can happen.”
It was the second world championship medal for 21-year-old Kauf — she won bronze in dual moguls in 2017 — and the first for Johnson, who’s still only 18. And the medals made up for a disappointing individual moguls competition last night, where Kauf finished sixth and Johnson 12th.
With their medals in dual moguls, Kauf and Johnson kept a streak alive. American women have stood on the moguls or dual moguls podiums in every world championship since 2003. It was the first time since 2005 that two Americans have shared a world championship moguls podium and the first time ever for the women.
And to do it, Kauf and Johnson had to battle each other in the semifinals. (In the quarters, Johnson upset current No. 2-ranked moguls skier Jakara Anthony from Australia, who claimed the silver medal in individual moguls last night.)
Going up the chairlift together before their semifinal, Kauf and Johnson promised each other that they were going to have fun and give the crowd a good show. It wouldn't matter who won.
Kauf won the duel and moved to the gold-medal final. Johnson battled Yulia Galysheva, the newly crowned individual moguls world champion from Kazakhstan, for the bronze medal.
“The most fun I had tonight was dueling my teammate and best friend Jaelin Kauf,” said Johnson. “She didn’t come away with the win tonight, but I look up to her like no one else. I’m so happy I got to ski against her.”
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Kauf and Johnson are two of the brightest young stars on the U.S. moguls team. Both women were raised in the West — Johnson in Vail, Colorado, Kauf in Wyoming right at the base of Grand Targhee, a ski resort known for its deep powder.
Johnson is the granddaughter of Sports Illustrated journalist William Oscar Johnson, who brought Tess’ father with him to Vail when he covered the 1989 alpine skiing world championships. The younger Johnson stayed in the Colorado mountain town, where he eventually started a family. The Rocky Mountains were young Tess’ playground.
At age 14, Johnson made the U.S. ski team — the youngest ever moguls skier named to the team. Last winter, Johnson competed at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, one of a handful of 17-year-olds on Team USA (she finished 12th in moguls — dual moguls is not an Olympic event yet).
Skiing was a big part of the Kauf household, too. Kauf’s parents, Patti and Scott, met on the pro mogul tour (they have seven world pro titles among them). And when they had kids — first Skyler, then Jaelin — they didn’t care if they followed them into competitive bump skiing. They simply wanted their kids to like skiing.
“We made an effort to instill passion for the sport and that was it,” said Scott.
It was Skyler who got Jaelin into moguls — a little sister wanting to keep up with her older brother.
“He loved mogul skiing,” said Kauf. “Of course my parents did as well, but I liked to follow my brother around and do what he did. I chased him, and he started skiing moguls and did his first event at Deer Valley, actually, and I wanted to join him.”
Skyler, who played football at Ithaca College in New York and is now a campaign director for a social donation platform in Salt Lake City, was at the 2019 world championships to watch his sister.
“I can actually hear his voice distinctly at the top of the course, which is pretty cool,” said Jaelin.
But not tonight. The crowd was too big and too loud. And the head-to-head competition brought out the best in the American moguls skiers.
“It’s just the adrenaline of going head to head, it’s more exciting,” said Johnson. “There’s a little less pressure being right next to someone. It’s just more fun.”
“I love duals,” added Kauf. “I love pushing myself, and in duals, I think a little less about it. You’ve just got to give it all you’ve got.”
Before the duals competition, Scott Kauf told his daughter to “put it all out there, leave it on the matt, and just go for it.”
“Tonight, it was the best I’ve seen her ski, consistently, run after run,” he said. “I’m a little biased, but I really thought she had that last run. But that’s how that rolls. She couldn’t do any more. I’m super happy for her.”
Although Kauf was considered one of the favorites tonight (she won the only world cup dual moguls competition so far this season), Johnson had no expectations coming into the night.
She called the snowfall magical — a fluffy white dusting that just added to the fairytale.
“I just wanted to ski my very best, and I think I did that,” Johnson said. “I had so much fun. I’m on cloud nine right now, and I don’t think I’m ever going to come down.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.