if you get the impression that Jack Johnson and his ski pals seem blasé about celebrating a major milestone. They’re not. Gathered in the 112 Restaurant at the Regent Hotel late in January after an epic powder day, the veteran CMH Revelstoke skiers from Park City, Utah are simply too busy high-fiving one another as they review the day’s video on their laptops to even rush to their dinner, much less celebrate their patriarch’s milestone.
By dessert, however, they’ve calmed down enough for guide Todd Guyn to grab the champagne, an electric blue Arc’teryx Neos AR ski suit and a certificate of achievement. “It’s my pleasure,” he announces, “to award Jack Johnson these mementoes on the occasion of his seven millionth vertical foot skied with CMH. Jack has been a…” But someone interrupts, “Yeah, yeah, Jack’s awesome. Come on, he knows the drill by now. Just pour the champagne.” Cue the old man jokes. High-five some more.
It’s an unusually low-key permutation of the million-foot ceremony, a staple of CMH since 1971, where the boisterous celebrations traditionally range from mock-formal to downright raunchy. But for Johnson, who turns 70 this coming season, the achievement remains as sweet as when he snagged his first million-foot award back in 1982. “A blue HCC powder suit,” he recalls. “And somehow I got in the brochure that year. I still keep that picture behind my desk. It was a great suit, too.”
Johnson clearly understands the sweep of time, and the enduring passion of powder skiing. In all, he’s made 56 visits to CMH since he first skied the Monashees in 1977 with a buddy named Jim Dalton. “Even though we didn’t ski together for a lot of years, we just happened to hit six million on the same day, on the same run. But as far as this goes, what excites me most is that this is my 35th straight year. It’s part of my life, obviously.”
Clearly, many others agree. CMH deals out some 300 million-foot awards per season, and around 4,000 skiers own at least one suit, the ultimate conversation-starter wherever it’s worn. Only a few dozen have ten or more. Typically, skiers reach the million mark in anywhere from eight to ten visits. Although the award began as a blazer, it quickly morphed into the far more useful ski suit. Depending on the era, brands have included HCC, Far West, Ditrani, Bogner, Marmot and now Arc’teryx.
Having extra suits is never a bad idea for Jack Johnson, who owns a resort development consultancy in Park City and hits the snow 100 days a season. The key to his longevity, and his ability to keep up with ex-racer pals 25 years his junior (they’re known to CMH guides as the Park City Dream Team), is staying in shape. “Any good intermediate can Heli-Ski,” he says, “but you waste your money if you’re not in condition.”
Johnson’s daily appointments with the elliptical trainer and the yoga mat are the key to his longevity. So too, he admits, is the new equipment. “I skied the first five million on 210s. If it weren’t for fat skis, I probably wouldn’t make it. Technically I’ve never skied as well as I do right now, which makes no sense.”
That said, it seems unlikely that Johnson will ever eclipse the reigning champion of CMH vertical: Todd Leibowitz, with a mind-boggling 21 million. He’s being chased by friendly rival Andy Epstein, with 15. Late last season Epstein was the guy who cracked up the guides when he mock-boasted, after Leibowitz had departed for the summer, that it was he who was in fact the world leader… “among active skiers.”