A teenage skier from Cortez is ripping up the slopes, catching big air and competing at the national level.
Mogul skier Max Johnson, a sophomore at Montezuma-Cortez High School, raced in the U.S. Junior National Championships, held at Utah Olympic Park in Park City March 10-13.
Johnson, who just turned 16, was one of 80 top junior male skiers in the U.S. to qualify for the freestyle mogul race. Four of his teammates on the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club also qualified.
“It was a great experience. The whole team placed well,” Johnson said. “I had some of the best skiing of my life, especially on duals day. The adrenaline pushed me to ski harder.”
Keeping focused while having fun is key to handling the big moment on the race course, he said.
“The trick is to stay loose when in the gate, goof off with your friends a bit and not think about it too much; otherwise, you will get too nervous and something will happen,” Johnson said.
After the competition, Johnson said he was ranked 39th in the country for junior male freestyle mogul skiers. Conditions were snowy with low visibility, making the course extra-challenging. The race event can be viewed at www.twitch.tv/idoneusa
Johnson skis competitively with the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club in the Rocky Mountain Freestyle Division. His mogul teammates Freddie Mickel, Cole Paczosa, Ella Jansen and Anna Smith also qualified and skied at the junior nationals championship.
Freestyle mogul skiing involves racing down a mogul course, and launching into aerial tricks twice along the way. Skiers are judged on mogul turns, speed, airborne tricks, and overall flow and style. Dual events involve racing a competitor side by side on the same course.
Skiing at junior nationals has been a goal of Johnson, and he earned it with success on the Telluride team.
“All of our training paid off, and to be at junior nationals with friends made it even better,” Johnson said. “It was like a giant reunion of moguls skiers from across the country.”
Observing the tricks and mogul techniques of other top skiers, plus competing with different divisions was fun and helpful, he said.
A backpack full of U.S. Ski Championship clothing and gear was an especially cool perk, he added.
Growing up on the slopesJohnson is the son of Najib Johnson and Julie Carpenter, owners of Johnson Physical Therapy in Cortez.
Max credits his parents, youth ski programs and coaches for teaching him to ski at an early age and for learning how to race. He has competed in mogul competitions since he was 8 years old.
He attends competitions with the team throughout the ski season, and training continues into the summer.
Johnson’s enthusiasm and positive attitude is infectious, and is an open format for coaching.
“We train a ton, and I always focus on making it fun, even when it’s sometimes exhausting,” he said. “I’ve been working out more, getting stronger.”
Listening to and following the coaches is a big part of competitive racing, he said, even if a new technique is not what you are used to, or feels odd.
“You have to trust your coach that it is the right thing to do,” Johnson said.
In the summer, his team trains on specialized equipment such as trampolines and water ramps to practice and learn airborne maneuvers.
Skiers wear a life jacket and full ski gear, then slide down a bristled ramp and launch high into the air to practice tricks, with a pool landing.
They swim out climb the ramp stairs and to it again and again.
Johnson enrolled in the M-CHS online schooling program, which allows him to train and travel for mogul competitions.
He and his teammates wake up early and do a “ton of schoolwork,” race and train in the afternoon, then continue school assignments in the evening.
His goal is keep racing and try to qualify for the Junior Worlds Championship, where competitors go up against skiers from other countries and make more connections in the sport.
But the up-and-coming ski racer from Cortez prefers to live in the moment, enjoy the thrill of skiing the mountains, and not look too far ahead.
“My main goal is to have fun, learn new tricks and see where it all takes me,” he said.