Steve Johnson is the point man on ski issues around the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon. He has worked for the agency for almost 32 years. During his college years, Steve worked summers for the Forest Service, engaged in firefighting, trail construction and maintenance. Overall, his passion for skiing has always been a key interest.
What was your dream job did you want to do as a child?
My real goal was to be a college teacher. But looking out my University of Nevada office window one day at the Sierras and the Mt. Rose ski area, I decided I didn’t want to be a teacher because I didn’t want to be inside all the time. At that point, I just decided I wanted to get out and see the world. I’ve traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and South Pacific Islands, spent six months in New Mexico basically being a ski bum for the winter and a firefighter and/or trails worker for theShasta Trinity National Forest in northern California in the summers. I kind of retired the first half of my life. Now, I’m working a little bit.
I’m 63 and working longer than a lot of my cohorts who have full-time jobs because I didn’t become a full-time employee until 1988. In 1989, I became a snow ranger that led to a lot of my work focusing on the local ski areas as well as other forms of winter recreation: cross country skiing, back-country skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.
What’s the one thing very few people know about you?
Oh, boy! While some of my current coworkers may not know a lot about my past, they certainly know about my present. They know I’m a skier, but I was also an ice climber, rock climber, and extensive backpacker heading into the wilderness for two-week jaunts out in the wilderness throughout the west. I can’t do that type of backpacking now. Also, I manage a three-acre wine vineyard with Laurel, my partner, where we sell to local home winemakers. It takes a lot of work to keep it going and work at the same time, but it is a great passion of mine.
What haven’t you done that you wish you would have?
I have no regrets on what and how I did it. Sometimes I think about if I had chosen other paths or if I had decided earlier to get a job with the Forest Service I could probably be retired right now doing other things. But overall, I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. I’m glad I did what I did at the time, and that’s all that really matters.
Even my degree in English and the teacher training actually has really helped me with all of my work over the years. I had a pretty good knowledge of the outdoors having grown up with parents taking me outdoors all of the time. My father was an extension agent and did a lot of pioneering work with burning range lands to improve feed for cattle. I grew up with a drip torch in my hand.
Do you like to read? What are your favorite books?
Yes, I do have a passion for reading history, particularly western history associated with the fur trade. A couple of western writers – Wallace Stegner and Edward Albee – captured my imagination and were by far two of the very best western writers. Any history that’s written about the Lewis and Clark expedition, including their actual journals, is also very fascinating.
Could you think of one word to describe you and why you would choose that word?
Well… honesty, a listener, and compassion. How about three words?
How did you develop those qualities?
I think it came from my upbringing – my parents and my grandparents who instilled those sensitivities. I was very close to my grandparents and my parents. Perhaps my father had the greatest influence on me. He was just a tremendous person who dealt with severely debilitating rheumatoid arthritis for half of his life. But he never complained and always had a positive attitude.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person’s name, work location and a bit about them to Faces of the Forest.