American ski icon, overall champ Tamara McKinney joining AVSC’s coaching staff

The 1983 overall World Cup champion will coach U12 athletes

Tamara McKinney poses with her four World Cup crystal globes, including for the overall in 1983. The American skiing icon has joined the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club staff as a U12 coach.
Courtesy photo

On a chairlift with Johno McBride a few years back, Tamara McKinney gushed over the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s atmosphere and sense of family. A seed was planted that day, one that has finally sprouted.

“He just sort of smiled and said, ‘You know, we are always looking for a good coach around here,'” McKinney recalled McBride saying. “And I kind of laughed and said, ‘Well, I’m not ready just yet.'”

Well, McKinney is ready now. McBride, the former U.S. ski team coach who currently runs AVSC’s Alpine program, has hired McKinney to help coach the club’s U12 skiers. It’s a significant addition to the AVSC coaching staff, as McKinney’s resume puts her among the all-time great American ski racers.

Even throughout her World Cup career, McKinney has always embraced giving back to the sport and coaching its youth, and sees Aspen and its ski club as the logical next chapter after a lifetime in the general Lake Tahoe area.

“When the opportunity came up and I talked to Johno about coming out here, it felt like coming home. I’m excited to be out here and to be part of it and we’ll see where it goes,” McKinney told The Aspen Times on Wednesday. “I just felt like I could work really well with the coaches and the team that were part of AVSC. Johno does a good job leading that from the top and I’m excited to be part of it.”

McKinney, 59, was among the best ski racers of her generation, competing predominantly throughout the 1980s. A Kentucky native who grew up in Squaw Valley, California — and the resort now called Palisades Tahoe — McKinney was part of a talented ski racing family, with a few of her siblings also making the U.S. national team.

A three-time Olympian (1980, ’84, ’88), McKinney’s biggest claim to fame is having been the first American woman to win the World Cup’s overall crystal globe, which she won in 1983. Since then, only two other American women have ever won the overall title, those being Lindsey Vonn (2008-10, 2012) and Mikaela Shiffrin (2017-19).

McKinney also twice won the season-long crown in giant slalom (1981, ’83) and once in slalom (1984). She won 18 times on the World Cup and also won gold in the combined at the 1989 world championships in Vail.

“Not everyone is going to be a champion ski racer, but you certainly have the sport for a lifetime. To get out on the mountain with good people is a great opportunity,” McKinney said of her approach to coaching the sport. “It’s a challenging sport and an emotional roller coaster sometimes, so people start to take it and themselves very seriously. There is a time to get things done, but you also have to enjoy it in order to have it be a positive, lifelong sport. It’s a great skill to be able to combine the factors.”

Tamara McKinney, left, poses with her daughter, Francesca English, who skis for Vermont.
Courtesy photo

McKinney retired from the World Cup circuit in 1990 and returned to Squaw Valley. Among the athletes she has coached is her own daughter, Francesca English, who ski races for the University of Vermont. On top of coaching, McKinney has made a successful career in real estate.

She has a long history of coming to Aspen, going back to when she was 7 or 8 and watching her siblings compete in ski races. Her third career World Cup win came in giant slalom on Aug. 3, 1981, in Aspen.

In recent years, McKinney has attended various AVSC fundraisers and has enjoyed the atmosphere the club has created, a key piece to why she wanted to relocate to the area and join McBride’s staff.

“Lots of people have some sort of idea of what a magical formula might be, but in my opinion it’s just more fun for everyone if there is a good atmosphere,” McKinney said. “It’s part of what AVSC does. They really are a family and learning how to create that good atmosphere, it’s good for everyone.”

McKinney has already started working with the AVSC athletes. With colder temperatures finally setting in, AVSC soon hopes to have the Stapleton Training Center at Aspen Highlands fully operational, meaning Aspen athletes won’t have to travel to Summit County for training.

“It’s a positive atmosphere for the coaches and the kids,” McKinney said. “I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be here.”