Sometimes in life, we are fortunate enough to be witness to a truly special moment. They can come at you with no warning and at the most unexpected of times. Such was the case last night.
Lesley, Jess, Tawnya and I were gifted tickets to the Denver Nuggets vs. Detroit Pistons game by my father for Christmas. We had EPIC seats. Floor section, row seven, directly behind the Denver bench.
Directly to our right was a family of five. The youngest boy was around the age of seven and was mildly mentally handicapped. He was enjoying the game SO much it was really fun to witness. The special moment I refer to, however, occured right before the start of the second half after the lights came back on from the Vanilla Ice performance (oh so special in quite a different way.) Rocky, the Nuggets mascot, was right in front of us cheering on the crowd and the boy to our right was cautiously approaching Rocky as a few other kids had done. He was smiling so wide but also had a clear look of apprehension and unveiled fear on his face as well. I don’t blame him one bit, mascots have always sort of creeped me out. Something about the giant heads. But I digress… Our boy approached Rocky with his father right behind him gently urging him to shake Rocky’s hand. He did and looked back at his dad with a true sense of awe and accomplishment. Rocky, sensing the importance this interaction had for our boy, put his arms out for a hug to try to take things one step further. Our boy looked at his dad who nodded and smiled.
With a look of determination and yet still so frightened, our boy, shaking and almost in tears, went in for the hug and started laughing and smiling with such pure joy, it was impossible not to tear up and get a few goosebumps to have witnessed this moment of his true happiness and clear moment of growth in overcoming one of his fears.
For the rest of the game, he sat in awe at the spectacle of an NBA game, but would shout Rocky’s name and wave each time Rocky came near. Rocky waved back and I’m pretty sure if mascots could smile, his would be a little larger each time he came close and saw his new friend.
Thank you, Rocky, my mascot phobia has just dwindled.
Beyond that, the game was all time. Me with my Pistons flat brim and the girls with their Nuggets versions made friends, took pics, gave each other crap about the back-and-forth score, drank beer, and existed in awe at how close we were and how large NBA players really are. Oh, and we rapped along with Vanilla to his one and still only hit, Ice Ice Baby. Epic.
Yet another shaking loss.
The ski community lost another hero today. CR Johnson passed away while skiing his home resort of Squaw Valley.
CR was a pioneer, a fighter and a shining example of how to exist in both this industry and this world. His dedication and outlook were truly inspiring.
My friend, Christopher Jerard, was very close to CR and wrote some poignant words last night that resonate deeply, I think, to anyone — whether you knew CR or not.
Please take the time to read as CR meant a great deal to this industry and much can be learned from his life.
8/10/83 – 2/24/10
A Eulogy by Christopher Jerard
7:00pm February 24, 2010
We learned just hours ago that CR Johnson, freeskiing pioneer, son, brother and beloved friend of the skiing community tragically passed in an accident at his home mountain of Squaw Valley, CA. We are heartbroken in the Freeskier offices and this loss cannot be calculated in words, photos or moving images. But I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts about CR. He was a lion. He was an inspiration. He was my longtime friend.
CR and I became friends in Cordova, Alaska, in the spring of 2001. We shared a heli with his dad Russ at Points North Heli. At that time, I was no stranger to the kid’s talent as a skier. Freeskier had already run a sequence of him two years earlier when, at 15, he spun a 1440 on film and instantly broke into the scene as one of the hottest new names in the sport. But that trip was the first time he and I were able to connect as people and the beginning of our decade long friendship that, so sadly, ended today.
Up in Cordova, by night, he was a high school senior, studying for his final exams diligently at the dinner table. By day, he was the best skier in our crew, confidently airing off things no one else was even looking at with 3,000 feet of AK exposure beneath us. At 17, with little AK experience, he was our point man – always ready to “guinea” what the rest of us would only stare at with unrealistic ambitions. On one run, CR volunteered to ski the untracked fall line over the roll over. He started down and stopped and started rubber-necking trying to see down further. “I’m not sure where to go here.” The rest of us were in casual conversation barely paying attention when Kevin Quinn, Points North Heli proprietor, came over the radio, “Who ever that is, kick turn, and get out of there, you’re about to drop a 300 foot cliff.” Conversation stopped. The kid casually swung his ski around and traversed to safety – then ripped a line to the valley floor. The rest of us didn’t say a word and did the best to stop our sewing machine leg from pogo-ing us off the side of the slope.
CR was a skiing prodigy and a pioneer in the freeskiing movement. He won an X Games silver in slopestyle the year after that trip to AK. He podiumed at the US Open Slopestyle that same year. The following year, 2003, he and Candide Thovex showed the world the first glimpses of what was to come in pipe, boosting ridiculously massive air at the X Games ski pipe comp. Candide got the gold and CR would have certainly been on the podium, maybe even won, if he hadn’t of hit the lip and taken a hard fall. Simon Dumont and Tanner Hall and others weren’t far behind, pushing the limits of pipe skiing even further. But CR did it first. He was ambitious, confident, brash, young and super talented. I remember partying with him in Boulder one night, probably about 2004 or so, there were girls around, shots, the whole deal. We were going for it. He was on top of his game. A professionally sponsored skier for six years already at 21 already – he was straight-up cocky. He made lots of friends. And he made some enemies too.
At this point, he had opinion about everything – from politics and religion, to his own opinion on who was the “best” in sking. No one was excluded from criticism or evaluation. In his 2003 cover profile he told me, “What Seth Morrison is doing is totally sick. I’d like to see him landing more stuff to his feet, with no body check. I think once he starts doing that, he’s going to be way ahead of everyone elsse. It’s crucial to land the trick, and Seth talks about that in his interviews. He lands Lincoln loops and back flips off cliffs. That on the tip of it all: incorporating park tricks with style into the backcountry lines. When someone can be really good at both, that’s who will be the best.”
I believe, in this quote, from 2003, he was outlining his own aspirations at that point. To be the best. And he was on his way.
He appeared in Scott Gaffney’s Immersion around this same time. And this is when CR started combining the big mountain skills of that kid in AK with the top X Games competitor – landing technical tricks in the backcountry. He landed himself on his second Freeskier cover floating a huge rightside 360 in the Tahoe backcountry. Just like the 17 year old at the dinner table in AK, he was diligently working toward that goal of being the best by putting those two parts of skiing together. Along with his friend Tanner Hall – he was re-shaping the face of skiing as a pioneer of our sport.
It was that same year, on December 12, 2005, early in the ski season, that CR sustained a severe head injury that changed his life path. He was hospitalized and there was some question as to how, and if, he would recover. We feared for his life. His recovery was well documented over the next several months. Hundreds and hundreds of emails came in to the email address loveforCR@freeskier.com with positive messages. Tanner was there the whole way during his recovery and in his room during some of the most significant
moments of his early triumphs. He spent 34 days in the hospital. He came to the SIA trade show just weeks after his release and I saw him for the first time. He was clearly hurt, but he had that fire underneath.
But the road had just begun for CR. His physical and emotional recovery would take years. But he did recover. And it was with that fire and diligence he came back to the sport he loved. And we all loved him more than ever for it.
It wasn’t even a year after his injury, that next summer of 2006, that he came to Boulder again. We went out to hit golf balls together at the range. Although calmed, a bit of the brashness was back. “Chris, I want to talk about my comeback profile.” We talked about it. But trying to be impartial, despite my love for him, I wasn’t so sure about a profile just yet.
The next few years were hugely challenging for our friend CR. He lost sponsors. He wrestled with not being the same athlete he was before the injury. I think he might have even wrestled with not being the same person as before his injury. Skiing wasn’t the same as it had been. He wanted to come back to the same place he had left off before 2005 – and the reality was harsh. The sport moves so fast now, even a knee injury, much less a traumatic brain injury, can put an athlete behind his peers quickly.
I can say, as his friend, his injury did change his personality a bit. He and I talked openly about this though. That brash, ambitious and aggressive pro athlete had been replaced with a more quiet and gentle confidence. He was developing a calm and a positive attitude of gratitude.
Last year he told me, “Im actually grateful for my injury. It made me realize so many things. Made me grateful for the people in my life. Made me realize it’s about my friends and family.” It was an unbelievable thing to say. That he was grateful for such a huge challenge. But he meant it. And in the last couple of years, it seems he really started living by this new found perspective.
I saw CR for the last time on February 1. I ran into him, unexpectedly, at Winter Park in the cafeteria. He smiled sideways and gave me a big hug, pulled on his mittens and we went skiing for the rest of the day together. He evangelized his new 4FRNT pro model for me (great skis) and brushed the snow off his tips to show me the hidden secret words in the ski’s graphic: “bless,” “cris” and other gems of rasta wisdom he lived by. He told me about how in love with his girlfriend he was, how stoked he was on her cooking and her ability to keep him in line and respectful. He quickly advised me “to be good to your woman, man.” He was amped on a recent 3rd place finish in a big mountain comp, Red Bull Line Catcher, where he placed behind Candid and Sean Pettit and just ahead of Sage Cattabriga-Alosa.
We ducked a rope and tried to find some pow in the low-tide conditions of Colorado three weeks ago we found ourselves thrashing about in some tight trees, hitting rocks, and traversing rotten snow to try and find an exit. “Adventure skiing!” It was so fun to be out there with him, so positive, so happy with his life. Many a ski pro, who I have been with, would have complained loudly. In fact, I think a younger CR would have complained loudly to me. But he was stoked. The positive energy shimmered on the guy.
Today, after I learned of his death, I checked my Facebook page and found this message buried in my inbox from before CR and I met in Winter Park a few weeks back:
Things have been great for me. I just got home from France. I was over there doing the Red Bull Line Catcher event. It was amazing. I ended up in 3rd place, behind Candide and Sean Pettit and just ahead of Sage, so I am stoked. Things are very positive. I have been working on starting my own line of outerwear and clothing as well. Big things.
CR is coming back. I remember you saying, “Focus on coming back and once you have done that then we will worry about a comeback profile.”
Great words of wisdom. Maybe not making as much sense then as they do now but words I have come to appreciate. At that point I just wanted to be back but was unaware of the work ahead of me. Now I am trodding my path that is leading me to a most righteous and positive place in life. Things are going really well and I am on track to be well ahead of where I was in life. Much accomplished, and far more yet to be accomplished. My riding is getting back on point for real, so… when ever you are ready for a killer profile, we can put something together like no one has ever read before. You just let me know.
I hope all is well brother and I will be seeing you soon.
We were in early discussions about his true comeback profile, and it puts a lump in my throat tonight when I think about the fact that he and I will not be able to work on that together now. I was not able to make that profile happen fast enough. I’m sorry for that, my friend.
CR Johnson was a pioneer in our sport, a talent and his skiing legacy will never be forgotten. The movies, the photos, the articles will all live on and stand as proof and a testament to his abilities. But even more important, as a human being, he had come to realize that none of that really mattered. He had come back to skiing for the pure love of it. He was enjoying every minute on snow and to hell with the photographers, the film segments, the profiles. But he was skiing better than he had in years. Being lost in shitty snow and tight trees with a friend had become more important to him than a magazine cover. His woman, his friends, his loving and supportive family were his first focus. These are the things that matter. As I told him about some of the changes in my life, things that seemed like a big deal to me at the time, he advised, ever the philosopher these days, “Change is the only constant in life, Chris.” He was, of course, right. And he had been through more change than most and had come out the other side a more complete person because of it. And a true inspiration to all of the people around him.
I wish that we didn’t have to deal with this change today. Because the world without CR will not be as full and positive as it was with him. It’s hard to see anything positive in the news we are dealing with now. But I think CR would find some philosophy, find some words of wisdom, find a way to make us feel better about it. So I’m listening tonight to hear his voice, and help me feel better.
I am so sad to see you go my friend. I hope there will be another time for us in the trees. Thank you for everything you gave me in our time together.
Love and respect,
“Only the things that you truly love will you pursue with that energy, and for me my family, my friends, and skiing, that’s it for me, that’s my life. The joy I get from skiing…that’s worth dying for.” - CR Johnson
This weekend I went to Pennsylvania as my friend, Kristi Leskinen, was holding her annual Invitational contest at her home resort of Seven Springs. Armed with my brand new Pentax K-7, thanks to my dad last Christmas, I headed out there. Practice on Friday proved worrisome as the weather wasn’t cooperating with clouds, winds and extremely cold temps. Not to be deterred, jumps were still hit and I snapped some lifestyle-ish portraits. Keep in mind, I’m still learning this camera and I’m geeking on some of the filters.
Saturday was beautiful. The only clouds in the sky were the ones that added an artistic element to the action shots. Again, geeking.
Then, we shot guns.
Things I did on Sunday..
Normally, Sundays involve football, skiing and a little down time. This past Sunday involved none of those things.
1. Woke up at 6:00 AM in Winter Park. Boy went to work. I went back to sleep.
2. Cried. For those of you who know me this will come as no surprise, as I have often been known to cry for many an occasion; happy, sad or indeterminate. However, for the past few days, I’ve been a crying machine. Why? My dear friend Austin Corry passed away last Wednesday. He was an exceptional individual for reasons only those who knew him will be able to attest to. He was a loyal friend, had an infectious laugh and could lighten a room. He was also a great kisser. He will be missed a painful amount. RIP, Austin.
2. Went to the mountain to ski. Proceeded to snowboard… a foot of fresh pow. I am by no means a good snowboarder. I am a capable snowboarder. But riding powder proved a bit difficult for a novice. It was, however, an incredibly fun time.
3. Found out I actually like artichokes. In fact, they impressed me very much.
4. Drank a Bloody Mary the size of my head.
5. Joined Colorado’s largest Mug Club at Pepperonis on the Jane side of Winter Park with Matt, Ian and Nate. From here forward, our gigantic mugs cost a mere $3 to fill up at any given time. Also, on closing day, a winner of the best decorated mug will be chosen and will be awarded bunch cool things. Or so Billy the bartender tells me.
6. Fell down on my snowboard some more.
7. Had boy drive me home back to his house as I drank too much giant beer to drive back to Boulder.
8. Went on a real-live Valentine’s Day date. We went to Pearl Dragon. The newest Chinese restaurant in Winter Park. Not only was it Valentine’s Day, but also Chinese New Year. Two Birds. One stone.
9. Drank PBRs at the Pub and took shots with Adam, the bartender. It was his birthday.
10. Played Buck Hunter.
11. Was told by a random tourist couple — Man aged 45, Woman aged 27 — That boy and I were the most adorable couple they had ever seen and they proceeded to buy us drinks and smoke us down. They also told me to get a tan.
What a day.
“And we’re the three best friends that anybody could ever had”.
In honor of my stalking on facebook today, I dedicate this post…
I was stalking one of my dear friends, Yess Werner, on facebook today and her profile picture included myself and Lesley Betts. If that’s not a sign of true friendship, I don’t know what is.
To further confirm my warm fuzzies, Ryan Fantau, a mutual friend of the three of us, posted this comment:
That got me to thinking, the three of us have had some great times as of late, here is a gallery in honor.
My Rockford is better than your Rockford.
So, today I was at the bar. The bartender and I got to chatting. Turns out he is from Rockford… Rockford, IL.
Obviously, we got in an argument about whose Rockford is better: his Rockford, IL or my Rockford, MI.
We went to the manager of the bar for the tie breaker since he has visited both.
He sided with me making my Rockford the clear winner. I mean, tell me the site below you isn’t charming.
So I’ve been insanely busy with SIA and on-snow demo. BUT, I will return to Nog shortly. In the meantime here is a pic from my phone that occured sometime in the past few days. It is allthe luggage Tawnya and I had while in Denver. Mind you, we were there fir four nights and live a simple thirty minutes down the road.
Oh, and we love Dakine.