TRUCKEE - Truckee's C.R. Johnson, who made a name for himself as a teenager as one of the most progressive freeskiers in the industry, died Wednesday at Squaw Valley USA, resort officials confirmed.
According to a Squaw Valley press release, witnesses reported Johnson was skiing the Light Towers area near Headwall when he caught an edge on some exposed rock as he initiated a turn and fell downhill. He impacted several rocks before coming to rest several hundred yards below the ridge, according to the release.
Johnson was 26.
Scott Gaffney, co-director of Matchstick Productions and a good friend of Johnson's, said the North Lake Tahoe community lost "an inspiration and a happy person" in Johnson, who always had a smile on his face and a positive attitude.
"I'm going to remember a lot of things about C.R.; we traveled all over the world together. But I think the thing most people are going to remember is his smiling face," Gaffney said. "He was a pretty special person, especially after his (head) injury several years ago. He just had the greatest outlook on life and was happy to be doing what he was doing."
Before a December 2005 skiing accident that left him in a coma, Johnson was a regular halfpipe contender in Winter X Games competitions and is credited for being the first skier to land a 1440 (four spins in the air) at age 15.
In that 2005 accident, Johnson suffered a head injury while filming at Brighton Ski Resort in Utah. He was released after a 34-day stay in the hospital.
After his release, Johnson dedicated a six-week trip along with friend Tanner Hall to relearning his tricks in the halfpipe. But Johnson soon gave up halfpipe skiing altogether.
"It didn't really come back to me," Johnson said in a 2006 interview. "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."
Johnson, whose short-term memory never fully recovered after the coma, instead pursued filming. Johnson appeared in a number of ski movies, including "Believe" and "Seven Sunny Days," which told his story of recovery after the head injury.
"He was grateful for everything he had," Gaffney said. "He definitely didn't take life, and his way of life, for granted."