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C.R. Johnson

February 28, 2010

While reading about the Giant Slalom beef between Lindsay Vonn and Julia Mancuso yesterday, I caught wind of the news that one of Mancuso’s friends from home had fallen trying to air a cliff at Squaw Valley, and died after hitting the rocks below. The name passed through my head once without notice, and then I realized that I knew him. CR Johnson was a professional skier from Lake Tahoe, CA. We weren’t friends, we probably never even had a conversation, but I saw him all the time around Squaw Valley while I was running the lift at the park, and he was doing laps, being awesome in general. Landing amazing airs.

CR came to the attention of the ski world in 1999 when he landed a 1440 in the Squaw park. It was an insane four rotations, and he was a mere 15 years old. It was watching him and his peers in Lake Tahoe that convinced my bestfriend Zack and I, to tear up our college acceptance letters and move to Tahoe with everything we could fit in my 1990 VW Jetta. Zack didn’t actually apply to college, he once got caught smoking pot with a cardboard box on his head,  so I did the tearing up, but we were sure that we’d be living the ski bum dream life that next winter, drinking beers in hottubs with foreign chicks, and skiing professionally.

I blew out my knee that summer, and after surgery, we moved to Tahoe. We lived under a trampoline until it got too cold, and then in a motel next to a casino on the Nevada stateline for three months. Finally we ended up sharing a house in the middle of the woods with four other buddies fifteen miles from the nearest town. Google map Tahoma, CA if you want to understand the isolation. The whole time I was working fulltime and going to school at night. There were no chicks, no hot tubs, and when people started doing switch 1260s over 100 foot tables, I realized that I wasn’t going to cut it in the competitive ski world. The main thing I did that year was develop a drinking problem, and waste my father’s money. I also cut my hair into an ironic mullet, emphasis no chicks.

I kind of reflect negatively on skiing these days. It’s expensive, elitist, impractical, and self indulgent, but when you do it at that level, there really isn’t anything that compares. Unlike most things that cost that much to obtain, there still is a purity that remains. I started when I was three, and didn’t miss a winter until I was twenty four. All through highschool I would skip class and race up to Alpental at Snoqualmie Pass to catch the last chair, and traverse into the backcountry, out past Pineapple Pass to watch the sunset on Chair Mountain in a world of white capped peaks and pines, all glowing violet and amber. We were all by ourselves, in a good way. Campfires and beers waiting with friends below.

Although I’m sure that the lure of fame, wealth, women, and travelling the world, were all great reasons to huck his body the way he did, I think more than anything CR did what he did because he loved it. Cause it was second nature, and cause the freedom you find being out there let alone literally flying are more addictive than the drugs rockstars and millionaires do. I find similarities in standup, in that, it isolates us. It can be a dangerous, somewhat harmful lifestyle. It ruins relationships, and makes any semblance of the normal life impractical and unappealing. And there’s the poverty. Despite all these risks we would never imagine looking back, just like jumping off a cliff. I think that’s the case with most art.

I know this is extremely sappy, and I somehow found a way to write a lot about me, but I kind of knew the guy, and I can remember watching him do that 1440 when I was 17 years old, and thinking that’s for me. I want that too. So here’s to people that risk there lives for what they love, and especially for those that we lose along the way.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jake Millan permalink
    March 3, 2010 10:35 pm

    Good piece Andy, well thought out.

    C.R. Rest in Peace.

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