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Monday, June 8, 2009
Updated: July 7, 5:13 PM ET
All Aboard the Crazy Train

By Tim Mutrie

Erik Roner has a mean sense of humor.
Erik Roner is done with skiing. "Yes," says Roner. "At least til summer."

Roner was at home in Tahoe City last week, but on Sunday he was taking off again to climb aboard the crazy train that is Nitro Circus—the MTV hit show that's a sort of thinking man's Jackass—next stop Lake Powell, Utah (Season 2, Episode 3). So Roner is expecting to get into some XXL cliff jumping and, as usual, who knows what else.
"That's me cutting away from my parachute a hundred feet over water. I landed really badly, sprained both my MCLs. I was way too high to cut away..." —ER

A pro skier by avocation, the 31-year-old Roner is also a BASE jumper. And while skill and talent in these and other subsets are certainly helpful in Nitro Circus' version of Survivor, what is actually required is a well-rounded (if twisted) sense of humor and a Gumby-ian ability (if twisted) to bounce back. All this somehow makes Roner a natural fit for flipping dirtbikes (or scooters or big wheels) or launching himself out of a cannon or riding the ever-violent kite tube alongside Travis Pastrana & Crew as part of the most irregular antics that define the hard to define Nitro Circus.

So while wedged in the chamber of a 32-pound cannon and awaiting ignition, Roner, being the flexible, good-natured fellow that he is, availed himself for an interview:

ESPN FREESKIING: Ski much? ERIK RONER: "It was all right. As with most people, it was a weird, tricky season. And I was basically out of it for two months doing Nitro Circus stuff; that cut into skiing. But I had a Poland/Slovakia trip with TGR and then a Haines [AK] trip with TGR, and those were good productive trips. But I didn't have a full winter like normal."

Nitro Circus—how did you get tangled up in this beautiful mess? "One of my friends had filmed with Godfrey Entertainment, which is basically Nitro Circus. He always said we've gotta get you hooked up with Travis, we've gotta get you hooked up with Travis... And two years ago they asked me to help 'em jump dirt bikes into the Grand Canyon and I was on the next plane. Then we all jumped dirt bikes into the Grand Canyon and we've been doing stuff ever since."
"Second time I ever rode a dirt bike... I made it. I landed it. And then I rode off into the trees." —ER

"It's basically a just a bunch of friends, sessioning what we can, not necessarily the best guy at this or that. ... Now we've done one complete season, 12 full episodes and some bonuses, for about 15 overall."

Season Two? "We've already shot two episodes and we're shooting for eight total. And beginning in May 2010 we're going to start doing a live tour show, world tour style, starting in Australia. It'll be like the Cirque du Soleil of action sports, kind of like the Crustys Tour. We're actually not sure what we're doing yet, but we'll figure it out. We'll go to five different cities in Australia, maybe two or three months total, I'm imagining. But it's To Be Determined, depending on how well things go and how much we like it or don't like it. ... There's also a feature-type movie in the works too."
"Full first-ever loop-de-loop slip n' bleed. Jim DeChamp designed it and it worked perfectly. So that's Travis going backwards shooting the POV cam as I'm going through it. ... Most of the times we try things and they don't work." —ER

The crew? "There's six main cast members and I'm one of the six. And we've signed on Travis' cousin, so maybe now there's seven of us. And then some other guys come on for some of the episodes—Ronnie Renner, Chad Kagy, Ken Block. Depending on what we're doing we'll have special guests and try to get them into whatever mayhem we're doing, but they usually don't..."

This show is a hit—is that the right word? "It's been really successful, MTV's ecstatic. It's been one of their best shows in a long time. I don't know what the ratings are but they're good. They're really good. I think within the moto community there's always been a following, but now we're bringing it to the mainstream and it's getting legs. People are noticing it, especially in the last two months, and actually people are noticing me more too."
"Me [right], Knoxville [in red], Streetbike Tommy [left] and Godfrey [center right] played croquet while that raging bull was trying to crush us. The bull's name is Charlie Manson and he ended up just absolutely drilling Knoxville..." —ER

"The thing is you don't really know what to expect. We don't either. And none of us see the show until it comes out. You've got Godfrey Entertainment, and their background is really short packed clips, rad crashes, and then you've got the Jackass guys, stupid stuff, funny sidecar stuff, so it's a commingling of the two. We've really tried to stay away from Jackass—we're not Jackass—but Johnny Knoxville does come around frequently. ... People say we're like Jackass with skills."

"We have a motto: Epic good or epic fail. And that's really the basis of the show. We go around to different places and we're provided with different tasks or stunts. And basically we're pushed outside our comfort zone every single day. For the first two episodes of the second season we've walked on the wings of a plane without a parachute; I got shot 100 feet out of a cannon; I got to BASE jump the Superman ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain; I flew an acrobatic plane, did flips and loops; I got tear-gassed; I hit a 40-foot gap step-down on a big wheel. There's actually a lot of big wheels."
"Yep, that's me. Straight-forward BASE jump... off the Palms in Vegas. But we were also running from security, it's always windy in Vegas and it's only 300 feet high, which is plenty high, but..." —ER

Plane? "Like wing walking; you walk out on a wing of a bi-plane. He does flips and rolls and then you're on the wing trying to hang on. This season we have rocket-powered big wheels too... We're just always trying to step outside the box: What can you do with this? What can you do with this mound of dirt?"

Maybe some skills are helpful, but it seems a sense of humor is required? "No one on the show is real serious. It's all fun and humorous and light-hearted. In the first season we did set or break 42 Guinness Book of World Records in a couple of days. Things like the largest air on a lawn mower; and I set the land speed record being towed behind a modified lawn mower on skis. But then also there was Jim DeChamp's front flip—first-ever going to dirt. He broke his back three months earlier at X Games, but he wanted to try again three months later and he did it. And then Jolene was the first girl to backflip a dirt bike..."

"So there's some legit stuff and there's also really silly, comical stuff. We're basically a bunch of dorks, nerds; no one on the show thinks they're the coolest guy out there. And I think that's why people relate to the show. It's not just a bunch of cool dudes. It's normal dudes who are silly and having fun."
"That's Travis [from left], Streetbike Tommy, Jolene, Jim DeChamp, me, Andy Bell, sky diver Scott Palmer, exec producer Jeff Germain and exec producer Jeremy Rawle. Good looking crew, right?" —ER

All this must be one great big distraction—if you're a skier. "It is a tough thing and I've gone back and forth on it. Skiing's definitely what I'm best at, and I definitely put together a segment this year and I got a really cool ski-BASE up in Haines, just a couple of days after Shane [McConkey] died, actually... And that was a highlight for my season. It felt really good under those circumstances. But it's also probably not my best segment ever. But the way things are working out now, it's great: We'll be done with this season by August so I can train and have next ski season to ski. And then for the [Nitro Circus] feature film—they want to do a full ski segment with me—and that'd be a high-budget thing that'd be in theaters, and that'd be cool."

"So it's just different outlets right now and I'm trying to do both and keep skiing hard. But it's definitely hard to do both. They're both very time consuming."
"This is a chariot race we did, with me driving the quad pulling Jolene. Awesome, and we won it. This is a pretty good example of a lot of stuff we do..." —ER

How long have you been filming with TGR? "Six TGR films; this year will be seven."

And TGR supports your alternative pursuits? "They absolutely do, and especially since they're getting their stuff licensed onto Nitro Circus to a broader audience. And if we do do this feature film we will be filming that with TGR. You can't just grab a production crew from Hollywood and go do that type of stuff in the mountains. ... But also TGR wants to make their best product too, which is mainly their film. And when you're not 100 percent there all the time, it's difficult. Usually a segment comes down to a couple good days; that's it. And if you miss a couple of those days, it's rough on you."

Last year—your rookie campaign in AK—was filled with tomahawks and other low-lights that bruised your confidence among other things. How was this year? "AK went a lot better for me. We didn't have as many good days, but we did have a couple good ones. And no tomahawks this year. Skied a bunch of good lines, felt a lot more comfortable and confident this year, so I'm hoping to continue to grow in that direction. That's the plan..."
Love the Alaska pow and, as Roner demonstrates, oftentimes (but not always) it will love you back.

Just how many tomahawks in '08? "Oh boy, I don't know. Seven maybe? But four or five real solid, good tomahawks."

Have you been following Jeremy Jones this season? "Yes and I talk to him from time to time. He just got back from Europe—he's in Tahoe now—and he had some trials too, some rough times, but he's getting after it for sure."

"Jer's always ticked to his own beat and going from his experiences in Alaska to going to bigger mountains and beyond what he's already seen and ridden, it's cool to see him zone in on that and chase it down."

What trials? "In Europe and stuff they were climbing a lot of peaks; basically mountaineering where you need perfect conditions. And Jer pushes things really hard, and if he has a goal, well... But he's no dummy, he's got a family and he wants to ride another day and he makes smart decisions about when and when not to go."
"This is when I broke the asphalt land speed-skiing record being towed behind a modified land mower." Top speed? "Something like 52 miles an hour." Any asphalt naps? "No, no I didn't. But I was afraid of that, hence the padded one piece." —ER

Trials in AK for you? "Same thing. We had some rough weather, so a lot of window shopping: Cloudy and then you're chasing a blue hole. We were calling it chasing the white rhino, and it made things really difficult. Every day when you just don't know if you're going to be on the heli and on some gnarly face or just in your hotel room still—it's mentally frustrating after weeks of that. And everybody just started melting down. But we did have some very nice days at the end and we got some stuff done. But after weeks of mentally chasing your own tail it's hard."

You were on the first shift? "Yep, with Seth [Morrison] Ian McIntosh and Tanner Hall; then Sage [Cattabriga-Alosa] came for the last week and replaced Tanner."

This was Tanner's first AK trip with TGR—how'd it go? "He did great. I couldn't say enough good stuff about it. I know what kind of a skier and athlete he is, but this obviously is a different game and stuff he doesn't know much about. So I was curious to see how he was going to approach it and tackle it. And he was very humble, he asked a lot of questions and he did real well. He didn't come in all hot and tomahawk... I think it'll be fun to watch him ride big mountains in the next few years here."

Who else impressed you? "Most impressive of anbody was Ian McIntosh. I think this was his fourth season up there and he's a real strong, powerful skier and he picks lines nobody else is looking at. He came into his own this year. He picked some gnarly lines and stuck everything and was just really amped—he found that place where he knows what he can and can't do."
Roner's one and only ski BASE of the 08/09 winter campaign, in Haines, AK.

"There's a lot of lines we came into like, 'Well, you could probably do that. But I don't know, I just don't know...' And then Ian would step up and just crush it. He'd toed into this one landing—and it was just much bonier up there this season, similar to Utah, a lot of sharks or rocks just under the surface, so we were leary most of the trip: Oh, there could be sharks in there, where normally in Alaska it's what you see is what you get... Anyway, he just bombed down this steep triple and then at the bottom ran into some sharks and just tomahawked down the runout; like, welcome to AK. But he figured it all out throughout the trip."

Sage? "He's one of my favorite riders to be with in AK. He's been there a while and he's taken baby steps to get to where he's at. He also has confidence, and I trust him; I confide in him all the time. He'a also watched and he's watched the best—[Jeremy] Nobis and Jer Jones—and he's really become wise and skilled. He's just a little AK master; and his attitude and his perosnality, it's just fun to ride with him."

Did any monumental lines fall to the little AK master? "I know after we left they just had more problems—helicopter crashes, things like that. And they had to sit out some bluebird days while the FAA was looking into it... But I know, as always, they were skiing strong up there."
Alaskan pow-pow.

OK, everyone knows skiing skills are important, vital, whatever. But discuss how a sense of humor—or a certain type of personality—is required to pull this type of stuff off. "For sure. We're not changing the world out there. We're sliding down hills with skis on our feet. We're not curing cancer. But it's what we love to do. And everyone who's a part of TGR—and Nitro Circus for that matter—knows that. It's fun to tease your buddies and, in a way, that's what's pushing you out there. It's not trying to one up your buddy—it's about friendship and stepping up together. And anytime you take yourself too seriously that ideal just goes out the window."

Is this quality misunderstood? "I don't think it's misunderstood. The number one guy who could relate to that is Shane [McConkey]. He never took himself too seriously. He never thought he was the guy. And he preached that: We're sliding down a hill right now; have fun; be yourself; be creative. And no matter what sport, that's what I look for, that's what I'm entertained by—the guys who are actually having fun."

Condolences about Shane. He was a friend, a mentor, a big part of your life. "Yes, and thank you. Shane's passing was really hard. I was in Alaska when it happened. Jer Jones found out first, from [his wife] Tif, and he came upstairs and told us all at once. ... Everyone saw Shane as a super hero. He was the guy who wasn't supposed to die. He was the guy who always pulled things off... So I went through an emotional ride with the news. I had this ski BASE picked out from the previous year, but I just sat there in my hotel room for a few days. Should I do this? What if something goes poorly? What if? After a while I decided, no, I should do this. I'm going to do it and I'm going to stick it. And actually it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done."

Erik Roner ski base in Haines AK from Ian McIntosh on Vimeo.

"What we do is dangerous. We play in a volatile enviroment that's much bigger, stronger than we are. And we try to weigh the risks, learn, and be as studied as possible. We know that death is obviously an option any day out there. But such is true in life as well—you could die in your car. But we're as safe as possible and we obviously don't want it to happen, but it also doesn't hold you back from seeking that which you enjoy, and the risks... So you make these decisions every day in the mountains, and it's powerful. But it's something I enjoy and probably will for the rest of my life."
A rather bland day in Haines AK for Roner.

Did Shane get you into BASE-ing in the first place? "No, I had another from Tahoe who dragged me into it first. And at first I was like, 'I don't want to BASE, I don't want to die.' But then I did it once and I never stopped... And then I got into BASE-ing with Shane. We'd always talk behind closed doors—because he's shooting with Matchstick and I'm with TGR so we always joked about how we're competitors. But we always talked about what we were both up to. It was, once again, that friendly rivalry among friends. Shane was always the first guy I'd call after I did a ski BASE; always. And he'd always make some comment about how I didn't do enough flips. And it was weird, after that ski BASE in Alaska, that was the first time I didn't have Shane to call and tell. It sucks. But Shane did what he loved and I know he lived a pretty damn good life; just a little too short."
Erik Roner the action figure before being melded into another action form.
"That's me again. And that's a violent, violent toy. You get this kite tube flying in the air like that and all of a sudden it gets wobbly and you get slammed down. A lot of people got knocked out. Some of these tubes are illegal..." —ER

Any more ski BASE jumps in AK? "I was happy to just get that one."

So off to Lake Powell? "Yep, Powell and Lake Havasu—some jumping, some tubing behind a plane and bunch of other crap. ... Just the other night, the Sunday before last, in L.A., we were all walking the red carpet together at the MTV Awards."

First red carpet? "Yeah, my first red carpet."

You're turning into a regular celebrity. "It's hasn't been too bad. I am recognized more. There's the young crazy fans and there's moms who are like, 'My kids just love your show.' And it's cool to see that spectrum. But I would never wish that celebrity status on anyone; that seems like a miserable way to go through life, being recognized everywhere. And I'm not planning on that for myself. They always said be prepared for this, but you're like, 'Yeah, right, whatever.' But then it starts to happen and it feels funny. I just always get shy in those situations."

So things are working out—but clearly not as you ever could've imagined. "Yes, things are working out. And I feel pretty lucky, and blessed."
Crushing an Alaskan face is more like how we're used to seeing the Roner Action Figure... in action.