C.R. Johnson's aerial arsenal was there all along, clinging to his memory bank from years of mastery.
One balmy session at Whistler, B.C., this past July " skiing with friends Tanner Hall and Kye Petersen, among others " the stars aligned, the tricks returned and Johnson the skier inched closer to his former self.
"I just started seeing the tricks in my head," said Johnson, a 24-year-old professional skier and Truckee resident who nearly lost his life in a December, 2005 ski accident. (See "The accident.")
Upon diving back into the sport last winter " this after waking from a 10-day coma and struggling through months of therapy " Johnson soon realized his confidence had suffered a significant blow.
The young freeskier who once was able to rotate 1,260, even 1,440, degrees over Squaw Valley kickers was reduced to spinning mere 540s in the wake of his accident.
That is, until that July day at Whistler, when Johnson bucked up to the encouragement of Hall, reached into his old bag of tricks and began stomping 720s and 900s over a 70-foot booter.
Big deal? For a world-class skier bereft of his courage, yeah.
"For me that's huge," Johnson said. "It felt like being a kid again. We had so much fun.
"I was really excited because I had only been able to do 540s for over a year. Up there I finally started to get my tricks back."
Hall, who said he was working on "double flip rotations" that sunny day, fed off his friend's mirth.
"For sure," Hall said. "You could see his smile from ear to ear."
The session also evoked memories from the friends' past, before Johnson's life-altering experience and 34-day stay in a Utah hospital.
"It was like back in the day when we used to feed off each other's excitement," Hall said. "I think that's what was going on that day."
Despite Johnson's progress, the perennial Winter X Games contender said he's done competing, instead opting to pursue a career in filming.
He appears this year in Matchstick Productions' "Seven Sunny Days" and Hall's new movie, "Believe."
"I want to focus all my time and energy into filming during the winter and pursue backcountry skiing," Johnson said. "I want to return to skiing as strong as I was before and progress from there."
Just not in the halfpipe, he said.
Contributing to that decision was an unsuccessful attempt at regaining his confidence and skills skiing pipe " a discipline at which he once excelled. Johnson gave it a shot early last winter, when he and Hall dedicated a six-week trip to halfpipe skiing at Breckenridge, Colo.
"It didn't really come back to me," Johnson said in February 2007. "I got to a certain point that was nowhere near where I used to be in the pipe, and then I stopped progressing. So I gave up the idea of trying to compete in halfpipe."
What's worse, Johnson said he bumped his head twice while halfpipe skiing. Although the crashes were minor, and his head was guarded by a helmet, the result gave him a scare.
"It was really frustrating," he said. "I hit my head as gently as it could hit while skiing pipe, and I could not remember the last 45 minutes. I decided it's not worth it anymore."
On the steeps and in the deep is where he feels most comfortable now. Johnson " not by choice " has reinvented himself in his profession.
Kent Kreitler, a professional skier and friend of Johnson's, thinks that transition may be best in the long-run.
"Now I think he's approaching the whole mountain," Kreitler said after skiing with Johnson at Squaw last winter. "He has the potential to incorporate what he knows in the park into the backcountry freeride scene. For someone with his trick skills, to get more involved in big mountain riding, that can be a great combination."
For Hall, he's just glad to have his friend back on the hill.
"It's just good to see him out there again," Hall said. "He gave us all a huge scare. It would have been a huge blow to the industry to lose C.R."