Dave Dubuque: They walk among us. Ordinary citizen… or gravity-defying acrobat?

I bet few ski articles start with a visit to the periodontist, but life can be serendipitous, and I go with the flow.

While I was in the throes of an anxiety attack triggered by a fear of needles that sits at the core of my lizard brain, I began to bleat about my favorite subject and this season’s goal of learning a 360 spin-off from a jump. to make . (It’s been a goal for several years.)

“I used to throw 1080s,” said Dr. Nate Johnson casually as I sweated and involuntarily twisted as he searched for a vein suitable for an IV needle. “I’ve even competed in freeskiing World Tour qualifiers.”

To run a 1080, a skier flies off a jump and turns not once (which is hard enough), not twice (most get nauseous), but a staggering three times – with stiff boots and long planks tied to their feet.

“That’s so cool, I can’t even get by once,” I said as my mind drifted mercifully into the semi-conscious.

Later, when I woke up to a successful gum graft, I remembered seeing Dr. Johnson and ask him how he had developed his skills.

“I grew up in Salt Lake City, skiing first in Alta and then Snowbird,” he said. “At my high school, students were allowed to leave campus to work, but my friends and I just went skiing.”

During these years, the sport of freeskiing — competitions outside the discipline of racing through gates for the fastest time — was in its infancy, and Johnson would watch videos of the sport’s pioneers, such as members of the New Canadian Air Force, and imitating what he saw, making jumps and performing acrobatics in terrain parks that were mainly the domain of snowboarders at the time.

“My brother and I glued some kid skis we found in the garage to our boots and practiced on our trampoline,” Johnson said.

“Then in the winter we built big jumps in the backcountry opposite Alta and practiced the tricks on real skis and landed in deep snow.”

The practice paid off.

Johnson recounted a memory of him and his brother competing in a slopestyle competition while in high school, judged by their ability to pull tricks from jumps, rails, and boxes. The problem? His family frowned at Sunday skiing—a day set aside for church.

“We told them we were going to another church to hear a friend give his pre-mission address to the congregation,” he said.

“We won the game, which was held on a beautiful sunny day, but missed the awards ceremony so we could make it to Sunday dinner and not ruin our cover.”

Unfortunately, the brothers came home with telltale glasses color, and the mold was gone.

It was also in high school that he competed in his first Freeskiing World Tour qualifying event – a competition held on the steep, unkempt slopes of a major mountainside that is judged by criteria such as the difficulty of the route leading up the mountain. is diminished, the control maintained by the skier, the jumps made and the “flow” or smooth continuity of the rider’s movement.

In the end, he didn’t finish, but after spending two years in Switzerland for his ecclesiastical mission, he re-entered the competition in 2005, eventually reaching the final.

“I would watch the races from the bottom of the mountain, remember which routes the winners descended and imitate them,” Johnson said.

“It mostly involved jumping off some big cliffs.”

Was he nervous about pushing himself to the limit in tough terrain?

“Competitors had to hike to the top of Mt. Baldy, which separates Alta from Snowbird, and I had butterflies in my stomach the whole way,” Johnson said. “But once I got on my skis, I had the whole mountainside to myself, and it was actually very peaceful. And fun.

“Unfortunately, I lost a ski after jumping off a cliff and crashing, killing my chances of reaching the super final.”

Johnson is now hard at work raising a new generation of skiers ages 9, 11 and 13.

“They don’t like going to class,” he laughed, “so we watch freeski competitions on big mountains and I’ll tell them, ‘If you can do that, you don’t have to go to ski school. Not anymore.’ ”

If they’ve inherited their father’s aptitude for the sport, it might be soon.

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