Remembering CR Johnson by Christopher Jerard
Christoper Jerard, Former Freeskier Publisher
CR was a skiing prodigy and a pioneer in the freeskiing movement. He won an X Games silver in slopestyle in 2002 at the age of 18. He podiumed at the US Open Slopestyle that same year. In 2003, CR 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 hit the lip and taken a hard fall. He was ambitious, confident, brash, young and super talented. By 2004, at just 21 years old, he had been a professional skier for six years and he was straight up cocky. He made lots of friends. And he rubbed some people the wrong way, too.
On December 12, 2005, 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. He spent 34 days in the hospital. He came to the SIA trade show just weeks after his release, where I saw him for the first time since his injury. He was clearly hurt, but he had that fire underneath.
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.
P: Bryn Hughes
Less than a year after his injury, CR and I 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, he said. We talked about it, but despite my love for him, I wasn't so sure about a profile just yet.
The next few years were hugely challenging for CR. He lost sponsors. He wrestled with not being the same athlete as he was before the injury. I think he might have even wrestled with not being the same person as before his injury. He wanted to return to what he was 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.
Last year he told me, I'm 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 unbelievable 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 newfound perspective.
I saw CR for the last time on February 1, 2010. I ran into him, unexpectedly, in the Winter Park 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 talked about his new 4FRNT pro model 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 he was with his girlfriend. He was amped on a recent third place finish at Red Bull Linecatcher, where he placed behind Candide Thovex and Sean Pettit, and just ahead of Sage Cattabriga-Alosa.
"The positive energy shimmered on the guy."
We ducked a rope and tried to find some pow in the low-tide conditions. We found ourselves thrashing about in some tight trees, hitting rocks, and traversing rotten snow to find an exit. Adventure skiing! he proclaimed. It was so fun to be out there with him, so positive, so happy with his life. Many a pro skier would have complained loudly. In fact, I think a younger CR would have done so. But he was stoked. The positive energy shimmered on the guy.
I told him about some of the changes in my life, things that seemed like a big deal to me at the time. Ever the philosopher, he advised, 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.
Then on February 24, 2010, CR Johnson's life came to a sudden end in an accident he sustained at his home resort of Squaw Valley. CR got caught up on rocks while skiing Light Towers, went over the handlebars and hit his head and neck on rocks on the landing. He didn't make it to the hospital.
The world without CR will not be as full 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.
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, Christopher Jerard.
About the author:
Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.