Tomba's relationship with his well-to-do family has always been a part of his mystique. He amazed many by calling home to Italy—collect—between giant slalom runs in the 1988 Olympics, just to chat with his father and his eleven-year-old sister, Alessia. His father, a textile magnate from Bologna, promised him a Ferrari if he won a gold medal that year, and as he celebrated his first gold at the bottom of the slope, Tomba told his father and everyone else who was watching on television that he wanted the car to be red.
This and other incidents prompted some, in the early years of Tomba's career, to wonder if Tomba was skiing because he enjoyed it or because it was what his father wanted him to do. Certainly Tomba's father, Franco, did encourage his two sons, Tomba and his older brother Marco, to ski. Although the family lived near Bologna, in a flat part of the country, Franco would drive Marco and Alberto from their sixteenth century villa an hour up into the Apennine Mountains to watch skiing races in the winter. Then the elder Tomba would turn around, go to work for the day, and come back and pick the boys up at night. On their holidays, the whole family would head for the mountains and hit the slopes. Tomba first strapped on skis at age three, and he started racing at seven. At first, it looked as if Marco would be a better skier than Tomba, but this only motivated Tomba to try harder to prove to his father that he could be a champion, too. Alberto succeeded, and today, Marco is preparing to take over the family's clothing business.
In some ways Tomba's love for his family may have held him back. At an early age, he promised his mother that he would avoid the more dangerous downhill races. He kept this promise, even though it probably cost him the World Cup in some years: it is extremely difficult to accumulate enough points to win the World Cup when one is not skiing in all of the events. Tomba did ski in the Super G for a time, but he avoided that event, too, after breaking his collarbone when he fell in a Super G race in France in 1989.