"I love guiding people," says Tommy Moe. Guiding? Who in their right mind would follow a guy who, for one minute and 45.75 seconds in 1994, in Lillehammer, Norway, reigned supreme as the world's fastest man on skis?Moe's gold put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and made him, at 24, an American sports hero. It also brought him instant financial success. Now at 29, after 12 years on the U.S. Ski Team and two Olympic medals, Moe has turned his attention to building a career around the activities he loves most: whitewater kayaking, wilderness fishing, and of course, skiing. When he's not kicking butt on the Ford Downhill Series, that means coaching clients at the Tommy Moe All Mountain Camps at Jackson Hole, heli-ski guiding with Chugach Powder Guides in Alaska, paddling safety-kayak on Alaskan river-rafting trips with Class V Whitewater outfitters (which he co-owns), and baiting the occasional hook for anglers who want to learn to hassle fish the Moe way.
"El whoppo!" crows Moe as he stands by a river somewhere in Alaska, reeling in his 14th catch-and-release king salmon of the day. "What a hog!" Landing the 45-pounder puts Moe fish for fish in a heated tourney with his buddy and business partner Mike Overcast, but Moe willingly drops his rod when he sees a client upstream hopelessly fouling a line. He unsnags the lure, recasts it, puts his polarized glasses on the client's face, and hangs nearby, just in case, watching two bald eagles circling in the sky. "It's not about catching all the time," says Moe.
The Early Days
As with skiing, which he started at age three at The Big Mountain, Montana, most of Moe's passions are lifelong pursuits. He first fished with his grandfather at Flathead Lake, Montana, when he was 10. He first kayaked with his father, Tom, Sr., at 11. And it was on a combination kayaking-and-fishing trip on Alaska's Sixmile Creek in 1993 that he and Overcast thought of starting a whitewater-rafting company. "Pushing rubber" was Moe's post-Lillehammer fallback plan. Turns out he didn't need the fallback quite so soon. His gold gave him earning power and a continued presence on the World Cup circuit for four more years.
"My Olympic run in 1994 was easy for me," he remembers. "I was in a zone where I could not help myself from skiing fast. I felt that way a lot in '97¿'98, too, but I just had a hard time putting everything together in one run. In the super G in Japan at the Nagano Games, I was a half second away from getting a medal. If I could have maintained and not made any mistakes, it would have been awesome, but I'm not displeased with my performance. I have had a great career as far as American skiing goes." Now he's fired up for career number two.
"It can be hard work, taking people out in the woods to get their kicks," Moe says, "but it's so rewarding afterward if they say, 'I had the greatest time, thanks a lot, it was awesome.' That's what I like. Seeing the glow in their eyes." And glow they do, not only because they get to hang out with an American hero in his favorite powder, fishing, and whitewater holes, but because Moe is a naturally easygoing and unassuming guy. "He's always happy, always entertaining and genuine," says one friend, describing Moe as an overgrown kid who likes to play. "I'm a recreational specialist," Moe admits, laughing. "Montana-bred, Alaska-tested, slayer of kings, skier of big mountains, whitewater tamer....I'm a specialist at playing year-round."