By John Clary Davies
Jonny Moseley watched the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics on TV. When he saw the top U.S. mogul skier finish in eighth place, he decided he wasn’t just going to go to Nagano in ’98, he was going to win—which is exactly what Moseley did, with style. Moseley relieved the mogul world from conventional spreads and twists, first with his 360 mute grab in ’98 and then with his Dinner Roll—a cork 7—in Salt Lake City in 2002. That trick didn’t score well with the judges—Moseley finished fourth—but it ignited change within the discipline and introduced the progression of freeskiing to the mainstream. All of a sudden, skiing was cool again. In addition to his innovations in mogul skiing, Moseley filmed with TGR, MSP and Warren Miller, won the 2000 U.S. Open Slopestyle and placed second at the 1999 X Games Big Air contest.
Now 36, Moseley narrates Warren Miller Entertainment films and is an ambassador for Squaw Valley. He has also been a successful television personality, providing commentary for freestyle events during the Olympics, hosting programs like The Real World and The Amazing Race, and as a contestant on Skating with the Stars. In 2006, Moseley completed a degree from the University of California, Berkley. Here, in a recent interview with Powder.com, the pioneer reflects on his career.
My oldest brother saw Hot Dog… The Movie and a lot of freestyle was happening at Squaw at the time—they filmed Hot Dog there. One day, Jeff, my oldest brother, signed us up for a King of the Hill—a duel mogul contest on KT right under the chair there. I was only like nine at the time. We loved it. I ripped up the moguls and we got free cookies at the end. The next day we signed up for the freestyle team as quick as that.
As I started to get a little older, Brad Holmes was my idol. I loved watching that guy. He was only 16 and he was on the World Cup, and he was already awesome.
The first time I won junior nationals I was 15—that was everyone under 19. That was the first time I really thought to myself, ‘OK, I’m pretty legit. I want to see the rest of this play out. This is going to be a big part of my life.’
I got four years, I got to do better than eighth. How can I get in a position to win?
I remember going home and training like a psycho.
I was getting through moguls faster than anybody else.
Then I started thinking about how am I going to spice this up? I would like to do something that would put the finishing touch on this thing. I don’t want there to be any discrepancy.
Grabs were starting to happen all over the place. I remember going to the World Cup the same time JP [Auclair] went and won the first U.S. Open with a 360 mute grab in Vail. I went and did the a mogul run in Breck and did a huge 360 mute grab and landed it and won, and that was a big deal.
After that it was just a matter of executing.
I didn’t even go to the opening ceremonies. I was a singularly focused guy. All I wanted to do was get out there and execute what I knew I needed to do.
The thing just set up so nicely. I got up in the air and you know when you hit that money 360 and you don’t really have to do anything? I reached down and grabbed my ski, tweaked it back. I even remember sort of looking up and looking at the crowd a little bit like, ‘Oh, I nailed it, and then thinking, sh*t, I got to put my feet down. I got to get back in the zone.’ Then putting my feet down and skiing to the finish and I just knew. I knew. I put my hands over my head and it’s just such a big feeling of relief, first and foremost, that you didn’t screw up.
I can’t claim that I did do a perfect job of keeping it together. I don’t think anyone is prepared for that kind of onslaught of quick notoriety. I was having a good time. I said yes to everything.
I remember one classic blunder. We had Leno and Letterman and we thought it’d be perfect to go on Leno one day and Letterman the next. They found out at the last minute. You can’t do that. You have to pick one.
I picked the Letterman show. They set up this jump and when I look back at that, it was the sketchiest situation you could imagine. It was this 40-foot tall scaffold that I had to climb up with boots on in the rain up a ladder.
The lip of plastic was a foot and a half wide. There are bolts everywhere. I remember the first time I went off the jump, I got to the end and I was like, ‘Oh sh*t, I’m way too slow. I’m not going to make it to the ramp.’ I had to dive off the end of the ramp just to make it to the airbag. I landed backwards and bounced off onto the street. I was so stoked I didn’t care. I’ll do anything.
When you look back on basically the start of my whatever, pro career, working with ski companies and stuff, basically was when skiing was beginning or close to or near the bottom. Everyone was snowboarding. That’s what made it tough. When you look at the graph, skiing hits its nadir probably around ’96, ’97, ’98.
There wasn’t a lot of cool stuff happening. Scot Schmidt and Plake, those guys had already done their thing. I was the first guy to put it out in the mainstream. A lot of people—the French Canadians were doing everything within the industry. I brought that to the Olympic stage. A lot of people in the public’s mind saw that 360 mute grab as an invitation to look at skiing again, particularly kids. Can skiing be fun and cool again?
I started embarking on the next phase. I went up to Whistler, I knew the X Games were coming up and I had a trick in my head that I wanted to work on. That ended up being the Dinner Roll—a flatspin 720—I got second at X Games ’99 with.
I was all over the place, man, a lot of different deals, cranking, going from one thing to the next. I was bouncing between all these worlds, filming, competing and mainly now freeride—also doing a couple mogul events here and there.
I thought I could take that trick—the flatspin 7—that was like, my trick. I felt really good with it. Man, if I could do that in the moguls, I would have a package in the moguls. I hadn’t been thinking about the Olympics, but that was the year it felt like OK, I got to get this done.
I want to go and go based on the idea that I want to win and bring this freeride culture that I’ve been immersed in for the last two years into the freestyle world, not only for my own ego, which I love to do, but for the betterment of the sport.
The whole World Cup had gone to quads while I was gone. I was aware of that, but sort of rebelling against it. Seriously, you’re just adding more twisters and spreads? No one is pushing it. I’m trying to do reverse 360 grabs—none of this is working. I just played their game and ended up second and that locked me up for the rest of the World Cup tour and put me back on the team.
I went down to Chile and immediately started working on trying to do the Dinner Roll in bumps. I went down there and started training with all the young guys. It was a bit of a competition there. They didn’t cut me any slack. They thought I was silly for trying all these new tricks.
FIS approved it. I didn’t even bother to see what points they gave it. In hindsight that was a big mistake. They ended up giving it the same point value as a quad twister, which unfortunately is what defeated me in the end.
I worked on that thing forever and I couldn’t do it. I worked a lot on that one trick whereas everyone else was able to train laps and laps and doing standard quad twisters and I’m out there hucking my meat trying to change everyone’s life, change the sport.
I went to France two weeks before the Olympics. It was my last chance to get in. I went back to old school stuff, I did another double-triple twister run super fast and won the event. It gave me an automatic spot in the Olympics. The next day there was another event and I knew I had to do the Dinner Roll once in competition to be able to do it in the Olympics. My run was slow, but I got it in the books.
Then it was on. I started working the Dinner Roll. I just can’t do it the way I’ve been doing it. Essentially, I started doing what was a cork 7. I wasn’t going to go back to FIS, ‘Hey I’m changing my trick.’ They don’t know any difference.
Obviously, I thought I was going to get some more love for the trick than I did.
Shawn White had an interview in the Wall Street Journal before the Olympics and he was telling them he needed to start doing his double Mctwists way before the Olympics so he wouldn’t suffer from the Moseley Effect. He was smart to do that.
The following year they went back and changed all the rules—allowed inverted tricks, backflips, took my trick and made the degree of difficulty worth more.
I had a whole crew and I remember coming across the line—it was a good run, I nailed it, I did what I thought I needed to do. I remember kicking out of my skis and seeing all of them so fired up and bouncing up and down, and I dove over the barricade. I didn’t even think about it. I dove into the crowd and all my buddies were slapping me on the head. It was definitely the first Olympic Lambeau Leap.
It’s hard for me to pontificate on it without sounding like a douche. I do get the sense, looking back, people really remember that specific run and exactly what I did and exactly what it stood for, and what I was trying to do, and even though I didn’t get the gold, I got the people to give me their respect and credit for doing something innovative and taking a bunch of risk in every way.
I felt like it was important to me. There were no other options. I wasn’t going to go back and do a 360 mute grab or quad twister. I felt like I would be betraying all the skiers and what we had all done the previous three years, and not only that, I felt like freestyle needed to change.
[The FIS] just has a hard time keeping up—especially in freestyle where the whole premise is change. It changes all the time and it’s not something the organization is set up to do.
It’s a little humbling. It’s hard to get up there and look at everyone and it’s like man, they look like they miss Warren Miller right now. I can barely sit through movies looking around at people looking at me like, ‘You jerk, where’s Warren?’
I like being a part of the whole thing. I’m done doing anything rad skiing wise. I ski some pow here and there, but I still like being in the mix.
I learned everything I know essentially from my whole skiing life. With regards to attitude, I feel like you go through all these phases as being cocky and having an ego, then getting crushed, then seeing what you said in the media, and I feel like that’s been a humbling experience.
Skiing taught me that relationships are everything. How you communicate with people and how often you communicate with people is the key. Being honest and communicating with people is kind of the best policy in business.
I think I already had a pretty good work ethic. My mom and my dad worked a lot. I think that skiing made me realize how important that is. You really make your own hours, your own schedule, you basically determine what you’re doing. You’re determining everything.