Truckee teen soars with the best
With a purse of $25,000 at stake for the Jonny Moseley invitational held at Squaw Creek this weekend, skier C.R. (Charles Russell) Johnson hobbled away with a buck.
Johnson finished just ahead of the guy who didn’t finish at all and was awarded accordingly: one dollar.
Given the context, that’s pretty darn good.
Johnson, a 16-year old junior at Tahoe-Truckee high school, was one of 16 competitors chosen from a field of the world’s finest for the event. By far the youngest, his standings were the result of self-preservation mixed with the will to finish.
“Basically, on the first day I did bad in the ski cross,” Johnson said. “I was little and everyone else was big. Then, during practice for the big air competition, I hurt my knee, and I had to drop out the first day of competition. I wanted to finish but I didn’t want to hurt my knee, so on the second day I just took it easy.”
‘Taking it easy’ for Johnson meant careening off the 15-feet tall jump and ‘limiting’ himself to 360s and 720s, managing somehow to untwist and orient himself enough to land while favoring his injured right knee.
‘Taking it easy,’ that is, relative to landing 1260s (three and a half rotations) and 1440s at the Super Park in front of peers at Squaw Valley when he was 15, the point when, he feels, people took notice of his ability.
“That was kind of the day,” Johnson said. “That was the day it all happened. Word got out about me doing the tricks and I got a lot of offers for sponsorships.”
Still wary of his knee from Saturday’s spill – he fears there may be torn cartilage, he’ll find out soon if surgery is required – he managed to go out again on Tuesday to Northstar-at-Tahoe to ski a halfpipe for the first time this season. Holiday masses froze in their tracks and periodically erupted into applause as Johnson took his runs. His airs were big and his style smooth, resulting in an instantaneous respect from boarders and skiers alike.
Tragically, another skier attempted to do a “skodio,” a trick that involves turning and flipping, and caught the edge of the halfpipe and hit, face first, on the ice at the bottom of the ramp.
After realizing that the skier was unconscious, Johnson hurried down to where the skier landed and pinned him to the ground.
“I saw that he was trying to move around,” Johnson said, “I went down so that when he woke up he couldn’t move. He started fighting to stand and I held his shoulders and stomach while another guy held his head and another guy started holding his legs. Just in case. If he had done serious damage to his back, standing could result in his being paralyzed.”
“Take it mellow when it’s icy,” Johnson continued. “It’s not worth it. I’d rather have people think I’m not cool then get hurt.”
The preventative gesture was one that he learned from his father, Russell Johnson, who was on the ski patrol for many years.
Johnson was raised on skis. At age 3, he was a part of the Mighty Mites, a youth ski program at Squaw Valley in which he participated until he was 7 years old.
He joined the Squaw Valley Freestyle team at the age of 10. Johnson was on the team until he was 14 when he was diagnosed as having Osgoods-Slautter, a disorder in which the bones are growing too quickly for the muscles and begin rubbing together on the growth plate. The result was bone spurs on his knees and Johnson was forced to quit the freestyle team.
He is still sponsored by Squaw, however. In fact, he is sponsored by a multitude of other companies that include Smith, Spyder and Salomon.
He’s participated and placed in several major events such as the 2nd Whistler Freeskiing Open, the 7th Red Bull Freeride Open and the Squaw Valley Jam Session. He has been featured in a couple of ski flicks. He was one of six skiers chosen to do a demonstration at the 1999 Summer X-Games in San Francisco, an achievement he considers to be his biggest so far.
“It was the most people I’ve ever jumped in front of,” Johnson said, explaining that there were about 30,000 people cheering him on as he was doing the demo.
Aside from his successes, he’s ordinary. A laid-back cool cat that scoffs at the melodrama of your average teenager. His favorite movie is Hot Dog, he enjoys wakeboarding and golf and maintains a best friend type of relationship with his girlfriend. He eats cereal for breakfast (Chex, not his favorite, but the one that around the house most often) and spends his nights hanging out with Elliot Ferris (with whom he went to the X-games), Tyler Bratt (his best friend since he was two years old) and Mike Laroche (one of his ski buddies). He loves to play piano (blues or hip-hop) and his favorite album is All Eyes on Me by 2-Pac. After high school he hopes to attend the University of California at San Diego, U.C. Santa Barbara or Colorado University.
“I don’t get angry that much,” Johnson said. “I try to be nice to everyone … it gets you a lot farther. I hate the drama of high school. Guys getting mad at each other, boyfriends and girlfriends having trouble with their so-called marriage. It’s hard to find a high school kid that doesn’t want drama in their life. I just want to hang out with people who like to chill.”
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