Tamara McKinney

Tamara McKinney poses with her four World Cup titles in 2017, in what McKinney describes as a rare photograph with the trophies in that she actually had the opportunity to brush her hair. 

“To inspire people, don’t show them your superpowers; show them theirs,” Tamara McKinney said during an interview between making Thanksgiving pies Wednesday morning.

They’re not her words — they belong to Dutch author and speaker Alexander den Heijer — but they are the ones McKinney lives by in terms of her philosophy as a ski racing coach.

“That’s the human side of this sport and the emotional side — the inspiration is what makes the difference,” McKinney said, adding, “Obviously strength and technique and equipment matters.”

As the newest coach on the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club roster — McKinney is working with the U12 Alpine Team — she said it was the culture of the program, not to mention the swanky gym, that made the decision to venture from Palisades Tahoe to Aspen full-time, which she did earlier this month. And working with 10- and 11-year-old athletes is an exciting opportunity for a coach, she said.

“For me, the coolest thing about working with this age group is you get them started on a really good foundation of balance and something to build off of,” she said. “But you have to have that balance of being inspired and inspiring the kids and the athletes to try. And I think that’s something in sports — especially maybe in that kind of ­inundation that this generation has with social media — it’s such pressure to be cool.

“And so sometimes when you’re trying a new move or a new skill or learning something, it can be hard for them to try because they might not be good at it. So how do you get through that, to inspire them that we’re all new to something at some point, and it’s OK to try and fall down?”

McKinney, for her part, has plenty of experience trying again until she succeeded, and succeed she has. She established herself as a regular champion for over a decade on the World Cup circuit and as the first American woman to win the overall World Cup in Alpine Skiing.

She went on to be a member of the U.S. Ski Team for 14 years. Between 1981 and 1989 during her career on the team, McKinney competed in three World Championships and three Olympic Games for the United States. In 1984, she was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame; she also has been inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame (McKinney is originally from Kentucky), the Reno/Tahoe Athletic Hall of Fame and the International Ski Hall of Fame.

The sport may take athletes all over the world, but “the ski world is small,” McKinney said Wednesday. She had always known Johno McBride from their shared days as elite athletes. McBride, a Roaring Fork Valley native and an AVSC alum, today serves as the AVSC alpine program director, but his career also includes long stints on the World Cup with the U.S. Ski Team, among other highlights.

The two were sharing a chairlift, as McKinney recalls, in 2018 — she had come to town for ski industry legend Bob Beattie’s memorial — and got to talking. At that time, Casey Puckett, himself a four-time Olympian and who skied the World Cup circuit primarily from 1998-2002, was coaching AVSC at the time.

“And I know Casey from his racing days, and we were just riding up the lift, and I said, ‘Johno, I’m so impressed with the whole situation here and the atmosphere. It just really feels, it’s such a good vibe,’” McKinney recalled. “And he just sort of smiled, and he said, ‘You know, we’re always looking for a good coach here.’”

But the timing wasn’t right for McKinney, a single mom and Top 5 realtor and founding member of Sierra Sotheby’s.

“I worked in real estate to support my skiing habit and hers,” she said. She remembers telling McBride: “I’m not sure I can pull that off yet, but hold that thought.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a record-breaking year for resort towns across the country in what became dubbed the “urban exodus,” as people who could afford to relocate to luxury recreational markets did so. She and McBride reconnected over the summer, when McKinney sent McBride an athlete over the summer.

“I really, really wanted to get back on the mountain,” she said. “And again, he said, ‘We’re always looking for a good coach at AVSC.’ So I came out in September just to meet the crew, and we had a barbecue at the ranch — and it just felt like I was kind of home.”

McKinney was able to sell the home she and her brother began building in 1981 last year and, with her daughter now making her own ski-racing career at the University of Vermont, she felt she could make the leap to Aspen. It felt like the logical next step in a long tenure of giving back to the sport, an AVSC press release notes.

“Tamara started coaching young ski racers in Lake Tahoe when she was 18 and in world-level competition. She has coached all age group levels over the years since the late 1990s; from international summer camps, guest coaching with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team U16 technical project post-Squaw Valley World Cup in 2017, to U.S. Team/B-Team technical camp in Zermatt, Switzerland, and coaching FIS and World Cup-level athletes,” the press release lists, as well as the younger-aged “Mighty-Mites, when her daughter Francesca asked how old she had to be for mom to be the coach.”

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.