Many stories enrich CJ Mueller’s legacy as a skier in Colorado, and almost all of them are tied to numbers. Mueller, one of the pioneering “speed skiers” to compete on the international circuit, was the first person to hit 130 mph on skis (in 1987) and broke the world record three times, peaking at 137 mph at the 1992 Olympic demonstration event when he was 40.
On the night of his 63rd birthday, he’s sitting in front of a bacon cheeseburger at Empire Burger in Breckenridge, where he’s lived since he dropped out of college in 1970 and followed his heart over Loveland Pass to the fledgling Peak 8 ski area. One of the great storytellers in skiing, Mueller begins tonight with the tale of how he found out he was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame this year. He was showering when his phone rang. Yet he answered, then stood buck naked, dripping wet, as he heard the news.
When Mueller was enshrined in October, dozens of Breckenridge residents made the trip to Denver for the ceremony, hooting and hollering for the man known as “Crazy John.” “CJ stole the show,” says longtime Breck local Rick “Pup” Ascher (owner of Pup’s Glide Shop), who was in attendance.
It was quite a turnout for an unassuming ski bum who has devoted most of his life to sliding down snowy mountains in relative anonymity. Mueller concedes that speed skiing, a.k.a. tucking down a steep slope for 10 to 20 seconds sans turning, was not the most popular discipline when he joined its ranks. “We were a little bit renegade,” he says. “There were no national teams; there was hardly any sponsorship, hardly any prize money.” (His biggest paycheck was $2,000.) Mueller still adheres to ski bumming’s bare-bones ethos. He works as a heavy equipment operator in the summer so he can ski all winter. “I remember one time he said he paid $35 for this old pair of skinny skis he got on the Internet,” Ascher recalls with a chuckle. “One had a broken brake, and he wanted me to find an extra brake. I said, ‘CJ, next time I’ll loan you five bucks so you can get the $40 pair of skis.”
Mueller, who skied 150 days last winter on two new hips, likes to reminisce about the days when everyone was on skinny skis. He misses the camaraderie, he says: “Just getting on the chairlift with a complete stranger and having a great conversation the whole way up. And then still talking as you say good-bye as you’re getting off the lift.”
Two years ago, Mueller was in Alma for the annual Festival in the Clouds when he bumped into a skier who told a story of meeting Mueller in the mid-1970s. The guy, whose name Mueller does not recall, explained that he had just arrived in Breckenridge and had no idea where he was going to live or where to ski on the mountain. He boarded a chairlift with Mueller, who proceeded to tell stories and jokes while laughing and singing the entire ride up. The skier was encouraged by Mueller’s spirit, which evoked the charm of the place and the times. “You’re the reason I stayed here,” the skier confessed some 40 years later.
Mueller laughs about that encounter. He doesn’t look at his Hall of Fame induction as a legitimization of his career—his experiences are the true reward, he says. However, lest one get the wrong impression, he is quick to add that he plans to make good use of the lifetime pass inductees receive to every ski area in Colorado.