Action County: CJ Mueller
It was the early 1970s, the ancient days of Summit County skiing, and Breckenridge’s John Mueller needed a nickname.”It seemed like everybody up here had one,” he said. “Nobody knew anybody’s last name. You couldn’t just be ‘John’ – that was too common of a name.”What better way to describe a guy who built eight-foot-high jumps in bounds, and flew 140 feet in the air, than “crazy”? It was settled. John Mueller became “Crazy” John Mueller, later shortened to “CJ.”For years and years, it fit. Mueller, one of the state’s original ski bums – who still describes himself as that – lived a life rife with thrill. He did it all in the mountains, from 240-day ski seasons to pioneering the challenging Peak 7 bowl runs that we now take for granted. Eventually, Mueller quenched a need for speed unto himself.The 53-year-old Breckenridge dad broke the world speed skiing record three times in his career on the international fast track, and set a personal best of 137 mph at the 1992 Winter Olympics, at age 40. He took 10th at those games, the only ones ever to hold a speed skiing competition, largely because he came out of his tuck too early on his second run. But he pointed out, as only a speed-skiing veteran could, “I didn’t fall.”
He hung with the likes of Glen Plake and skied shoulder-deep powder in France when not schussing steeps on tour. One year, he missed out on the FIS speed skiing season title by one thousandth of a second.These days, though, when people ask him what “CJ” stands for, Mueller offers a different answer. “I tell them it’s for ‘Cautious John,'” he said with a smile, but not kidding. “I have to be careful, and I am.”Yes, Mueller still gets his days in (about 100 last year, he estimated, though rarely for more than two or three hours). But like all 50-something ski bums, life isn’t what it once was. His priorities now are with his daughter, 9-year-old Melina, and he can’t take the chance of getting hurt and being unable to take care of her.So he sticks to days when the snow is soft and forgiving, and skis slowly – for him, at least. He tells chairlift stories of the good ol’ days, of putting together powder 8 turns at Arapahoe Basin one day, then returning the next morning to see them still there, all alone on the pitch.One might expect a pioneer like Mueller, a been-there-from-the-beginning, to be a bummed out with the growth of today. Not so. He doesn’t love it all, but he’s far from bitter.
“How can I be?” he said. “It’s been good to me.”So what’s it like going 137 miles per hour on skis? (Today’s World Cup downhillers rarely break 90 mph.)”It’s a blast if you’re feeling like you’re in control. It’s the coolest feeling. The greatest thing is conquering the fear and feeling so prepared and focused. That was really the fun thing, was to be discovering the mental powers that people are capable of. It wasn’t even so much the physical sensation of the speed – which was cool – but it was more the sensation of feeling so mentally focused.”
“What does ‘fall’ mean? (Laughs) You slide for a long ways, and hopefully your skis come off and you don’t tumble. Your suits are so slick that there’s only a little friction between you and the snow. The only guy I ever knew who really got hurt actually got knocked out when he fell, so he was sliding along after that while he was unconscious, and your suit gets really, really hot when you’re going that speed. He couldn’t feel it, so it melted the suit and burned his skin really bad, burned his suit right in with his skin.”How on earth do you get a 240-day season?”Back then, when ski season started, that was the end of work. We’d ski every day in November, every day in December, January, February, March, April and May. That’s seven months. Then we’d hike and ski two days a week in the summer. I remember one time skiing at Breck 100 days in a row.”
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