"Rocketman’ stunt causes blowup | SummitDaily.com

"Rocketman’ stunt causes blowup

Lu Snyder

ARAPAHOE BASIN – Steve Tohari was concerned when he saw a man load the ski lift at A-Basin Saturday wearing what looked like dynamite mounted behind his ski bindings.

When the devices ignited – the loud, smoky explosion slammed Tohari against the back of the chair and he got a mouthful of chemicals – he was frightened and angry.

And when he reported the incident to the ski patrol, Tohari became confused and even more angry. He claims patrollers “said I was snowballing the whole thing.” Sheriff’s officers apparently made light of the incident, as well.

“It sounds like a hilarious joke,” Tohari said Tuesday. “Maybe it’s something to laugh about over a beer, but I thought it was pretty serious because of the explosion. I feel very nervous when there’s an explosive that goes off on the lift in front of me.”

The man with the rocket propulsion device mounted to his mono-ski is well-known in some ski communities. His name is C.J. Turner, but he’s also known as Turbo and Rocketman.

Saturday was not the first time Turner has taken his chemically-propelled mono ski to a ski area. In fact, this is the third season he’s been working with his “rocket” device.

A former pro mogul skier, Turner’s desire to go fast has not lessened over the years, though he’s now 41 and the father of three.

The idea for his device came to him a few years ago when he was sitting on the lawn of his home in Ridgeway and thinking about how to ski faster. Turner said he put a soup can on the back of his ski, filled it with model rocket fuel, and watched the ski speed across the lawn.

Turner now skis on a monoski powered by ammonium perchorate. He wears a 12-volt battery and is “hard-wired all the way through my Nomex suit (a fire-proof suit similar to those worn by Nascar drivers, he said.) All the electronics are hard-wired from a microswitch in my ski pole to the motor housing. It’s straight out of James Bond.”

Turner said his focus is acceleration, not speed.

“It’s a short burst – I’m not looking to break any speed records,” Turner said.

But he does hope to break world records.

“We’re going to try to set a new world record for acceleration on snow,” Turner said. “It’s basically like a top-fuel dragster.”

Turner also hopes to be the first man to ski uphill.

His antics have been featured in” Powder”, “SKI”, and “Freeskier” magazines, among others. Turner said he’s also been filmed for Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” television show.

“I’m a real Clark Kent, I just have kids,” Turner said. “I’m a pretty normal guy, I just have a funny way of skiing. A lot of people have commented “You’re becoming the Evel Knievel of skiing,’ (but) I’m not out to hurt myself or, more importantly, anybody else.”

According to a story at Telluride Online, Turner’s 12-cylinder rocket fuel engine is “capable of producing 350 pounds of thrust and hitting 90 miles an hour.”

But Turner said the incident on the lift Saturday was caused by a “29 mm rocket that burns for two seconds (which) produces 18 pounds of thrust” – not enough to cause any damage to anyone on the lift.

“I had a malfunction that was do to an error that I wouldn’t do again in a million years,” Turner said. “I’m upset with myself and embarrassed, because safety is my priority.”

Tohari, too, is worried about safety.

Tohari stressed he was not so mad Turner, but rather at A-Basin for allowing Turner on the lift with what looked like explosives, and without questioning him.

“(Ski area personnel) saw the guy ignite the device on the mountain and allowed him to board the lift again,” Tohari said. “It’s just carelessness.

“My concern is for the future. I care about other visitors besides myself, and I care about safety issues.”

Alan Henceroth, director of operations at A-Basin, said Turner was asked to leave the mountain after the accident.

“It was not an explosive, it was not a rocket,” Henceroth said. “He got on (the) lift and the device went off and it really scared some people. I think it was loud … and there was a lot of smoke. I think it was kind of like a smoke bomb and a flare combined.”

This is the first time this has happened, Henceroth said. “Once he was frightening and scaring our guests, we asked him to leave. The safety and well-being of our guest is our No. 1 concern. If we think someone is going to do something on the lift that we think jeopardizes the public or violates the law, we don’t allow them on the lift.”

Tohari reported the incident to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, but public information officer, Jill Berman, said officers will not be investigating the incident.

Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or lsnyder@summitdaily.com

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