OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Current Olympians and others in the ski community on Thursday mourned the loss of professional free skier C.R. Johnson, who died in a fall while skiing a steep chute at California's Squaw Valley.
Johnson, 26, who has competed in the Winter X Games, was skiing with a group of friends Wednesday afternoon when he fell while trying to negotiate a "very, very tight, rocky area," said Jim Rogers, a member of the Lake Tahoe-area resort's ski patrol.
He fell face-first, then spun around and struck the back of his head on rocks in the Light Towers area of the resort. Johnson was wearing a helmet, but Rogers said the helmet took a serious blow.
Johnson was well-known at Squaw Valley, a challenging resort near Lake Tahoe's north shore that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics and has been a training ground for generations of Olympic skiers. His father was an avalanche forecaster at the resort for about a decade.
Squaw Valley sports shop worker Susan Joy Rouse said she knew of Johnson as a member of the community who loved to ski and push the limits.
"He was just a sweet boy," Rouse said Thursday morning. "This is what he loved to do. He was known for his love of skiing, pushing the limits and having a great time on the mountains. A lot of people had admiration for him."
Squaw Valley also is the home base for several members of the U.S. ski team, including Olympic alpine medalist Julia Mancuso.
She dedicated her last run in the Olympics, in Thursday's giant slalom, to Johnson.
"These 2010 Olympics are almost done for me," Mancuso said in a tweet and Facebook posting Thursday. "This last run is for CR Johnson. Gonna rip it for you!!! CR was in Salt Lake City at my first Olympics, cheering for me. I know your here now and with everyone when they ski and push their limits. RIP."
The younger skier also had rebounded from a serious injury suffered during a competition five years ago that put him in a coma for several months.
Johnson competed in superpipe and halfpipe skiing at events such as the X Games. A photograph on his MySpace page said he was "X-qualified" for a skiing competition in France in 2002, while the Web site for the Ski Channel Television Network said he had been nominated for male skier of the year in 2002.
The freeskier.com Web site posted clips of Johnson in several extreme skier movies, jumping off cliffs and sailing through fresh, untracked powder. One clip includes Johnson talking about relearning to use his arms and legs after a severe injury caused by a collision with another skier while filming at Utah's Brighton ski resort in 2005.
He recalls "being one of the best skiers in the world, overly confident in your skiing, overly confident in yourself. ... Right now I'm working as hard as I possibly can to return to the sport that nearly killed me."
Squaw Valley attracts expert skiers and is known for its difficult terrain. Johnson is the fifth skier to die on the slopes over the past three years. Two of the five died in avalanches, including one member of the ski patrol.
Attempts to reach Johnson's family were unsuccessful, and a telephone message left with a spokesman for the X Games was not immediately returned.
Squaw's ticket manager, Ivan McGurk, 37, said he knew Johnson because the young skier was at the resort frequently.
"I think he was an inspiration for both his athletic ability and the challenges he faced," McGurk said. "It's sad, and we feel for his family."
Associated Press Writers Don Thompson in Sacramento and Samantha Young in Olympic Valley contributed to this report.
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