Twenty-six-year-old C.R. Johnson was killed Wednesday while skiing at Squaw Valley, Calif. According to a statement issued by the resort, the Lake Tahoe native caught an edge on exposed rocks while entering the Light Towers area above the Cornice II lift. He fell through rocks before coming to a rest several hundred yards below the entry. Ski Patrol were on the scene within minutes, but efforts to revive Johnson failed. He was reportedly wearing a helmet.
Johnson was known in recent years for his inspiring return to skiing after a traumatic brain injury that he suffered in December of 2005. The injury, sustained when another skier accidentally landed on him during a run, left him in a coma for 10 days. He spent 34 days in the hospital and several months in rehab, but was back on snow by the end of that winter. He made steady progress in recent seasons and this winter finished third in the prestigious Red Bull Linecatcher event in the French Alps.
But long before his injury, Johnson was known as a park and pipe skiing prodigy who helped redefine the sport in the first years of this century by proving what was possible on twin tip skis. He was a two-time Winter X Games medalist, earning bronze in the 2001 Big Air and silver in the 2002 slopestyle. But those years were simply a warm up for the next three.
Between 2003 and 2005, Johnson consistently broke the barrier for how high skiers could go in a halfpipe. His 2003 Winter X duel with Candide Thovex was a defining moment for the young discipline, with Johnson throwing a 900 that stood as a benchmark for several years. And while such huge air usually cost him a result (he never finished higher than fourth in the Winter X halfpipe, due to crashes), his influence on today's halfpipe skiers was greater than any medal could bestow.
"He's the defining person who put halfpipe skiing on the map," says two-time Winter X SuperPipe champion Simon Dumont. "He's a huge part of how halfpipe skiing is right now."
Johnson was also instrumental in bringing park-style skiing to the backcountry. His film segments in the Tanner Hall/Eric Iberg films "WSKI106" and "Pop Yer Bottlez," in which he seamlessly added off-axis rotations to airs off big cliffs and toyed with switch takeoffs and landings in powder, are considered early prototypes in the evolution of freestyle backcountry skiing. His result at this year's Linecatcher was seen by many as a return to that pre-injury form.
"CR lived every day in the present," says Poor Boyz Productions cinematographer Tyler Hamlet, who filmed Johnson last winter for the PBP movie "Every Day Is A Saturday." "He was always positive, always stoked. I just hope people can take his vibe into their own lives. Live it, shred it, be happy."