- J. T. Holmes is a bit of a thrill seeker, you might say; that is, if you think base jumping off mountains with a parachute and a pair of skis sounds thrilling. Or how about base jumping with a parachute off the Silver Legacy Casino in Reno, Nevada, the first-ever ski base jump off a skyscraper. The reality is that J.T. is a world-class-level skier who has a love of heights, speed and thrills. He has transformed the sport of skiing, and has caught the attention of youth devoted to BMX and the craziness of the X Games. He has made a number of ski films and has performed countless stunts and dangerous feats to the delight of many.
What was your first car?
My first car was a ’92 Nissan Pathfinder.
Was it the two-door or the four-door model?
The four-door. That was the first car that I had, after my dad and my sister and stuff. The first car I ever had that I got myself and fell in love with was a ’79 Ranchero.
That is very cool and unique. Tell me about this ride.
Yeah. It was silver. It was a utility car. I was into dirt biking backthen and it was great for that type of thing. I had it for a little while, and it was a good car.
Did you abuse it at all?
Not really. I purchased it for $2,100 and I sold it for $1,800.
Another athlete who knows how to buy and sell their cars!
You should be a used car salesman!
Yeah. I’m also a good driver, I guess.
If driving off mountains and buildings is good, I thought.
I hear you do some off-road racing.
My dad and I have raced Baja Bugs in the 516 class. Seems like forever, now.
Something I know a thing or two about! Cool!!! I didn’t know you did that when I contacted you. What class do you and your dad race in?
Now we have a 7200 truck. That one’s fast and fun, definitely a big step up from the 516 class. It’s a ton of fun. It’s something I hope to do someday after becoming financially sussessful enough to do it on my own. It’s out of my league right now.
It costs a lot of money. Even when you sit down and do your budgets and you get your sponsors to pay, then you get down to race and discover all of the additional expenses.
Exactly. I can only imagine.
When you were a kid growing up, were there any posters on your wall that sported a Porsche or a Ferrari?
Actually, no. I was really fascinated by skiing, and rad pro skiers and their lifestyle and whatnot. There was a shot of a pro skier name Brad Holmes with a motorcycle. He was riding it through a fence with his skis on a makeshift ski rack. That was one poster semi-vehicle- -oriented. My dad is a big vehicle guy. He loves Ferraris, but I didn’t really inherit that as far as posters on the wall and dreaming of someday owning something.
The hand-me-down Pathfinder, whose vehicle was that before it was yours?
My sister’s. I have an older sister.
Okay, and you were how old before you got your license?
Do you have any funny stories before you got your license?
No, but I got a hell of a speeding ticket nine days after I got my license. It was a bad one…like 90 in a 45 or something.
Uh-oh. Did your parents know about it and was there a punishment handed down?
They were quite upset. And I actually didn’t have…my dad hadn’t given me the Pathfinder yet. He never really gave it to me. I used it in high school, but I had to wait on the Pathfinder. That speeding ticket delayed having the Pathfinder handed to me.
What kind of cars do you currently have now?
Now I have a ’70 Beetle and a ’97 F350.
Did you restore your Beetle?
The Beetle is an ongoing restoration project. It’s been getting improved for six or so years.
Just what is the history of this infamous Beetle? Where did it come from?
From my mom’s side. The thing about that side, the Portellos, if you graduated college, he would get you a Beetle.
(LAUGHTER) What, was he German?
He thought they were practical. The four girls all graduated, and my mom and her sister all had Beetles and her brothers had none. My mom’s was light blue and it was our family car. My dad used it. My mom drove it to Boston when he was in college. My first memories are in that car. When my dad graduated from medical school, he sold my mom’s Beetle. She was so crushed. She cried buckets. And my dad, being brash as he can be, said, ‘Oh, get over it. It was a POS car for this POS town.’
So he didn’t like Boston?
Uhm, no. I don’t think he liked the weather. He was a skier. It’s cold and the skiing isn’t that great out there.
No, there’s not much skiing in Bahstahn, but there’s pahk- ing the cah!
(LAUGHTER). Yes, well, finally she got over it. She had set her sights on her sister’s Beetle, which was being neglected. She took the Beetle off of her hands, but never really had the time or the money to put into it. By then, my parents were divorced.
Did they get divorced over the Beetle? Was that the root of the problem?
Actually, that didn’t help. One thing led to another and my dad said, ‘Cool, a Beetle. Can I have it?’ My mom wouldn’t do that, but she didn’t know how or have time to fix it up. I was able to get it running and drive it around, but I didn’t have the money to restore it. So, my mom gave it to my dad and said he could never have the title and he’d have to give it to me. He got the ball rolling and I fell in love with the car. I got it for my birthday several years ago and I’ve slowly restoring it. Put an engine in it last May, which helped because the stock engine…up here, it’s dangerous to have insufficient horsepower.
How fast can you get it up to now?
I can go 65 on the freeway.
Is that the fastest you’ve gone with it?
I might push it to 75.
(LAUGHTER). Oooooh. That’s fast.
For that car, it is. I might push it when no one’s looking.
How do you control such a beast? (LAUGHS)
She just runs on love.
And her name?
Rosebud derives from?
My grandfather who bought the car in 1970 was Norman Portello, but everyone called him Bud.
Is there some Italian going on there?
Okay, so speeding tickets. Obviously you don’t get them in the Beetle, but did you learn your lesson with that first big one or are you still a bad boy?
Oh yes, I get speeding tickets. All too often. I’m sure you hear this from most of the athletes.
Are you really good at driving a stick? Are you stick talented?
I’m a good driver, but I occasionally grind gears. It’s an interesting clutch in Rosebud. To sum it up…I am a real pro at driving stick!
How many cars have you owned from the get-go?
Not many. The two that I own now and the ’79 Ranchero. That’s it.
Do you have your sights set on something now, like a wide-body Turbo Porsche?
No. I’m not really sports car-oriented because I cannot afford the speeding tickets. I like four-wheel- drive cars for up here. The Bug handles well in the snow with some weight in the front. The tires hold because the engine’s over them. I might get something one day. My truck is like a beast of burden. If I’m loading a snowmobile into it or something and I dent it, whatever.
Oops. So it’s a work truck, not a show or city truck?
Yeah. I drive it, actually, fairly seldom. Around here, this is my little valley and I drive the Bug. When it’s time to go on a road trip with a bunch of guys and a bunch of gear, I take the truck.
What are your thoughts on this whole Green movement? Would you ever own a Hybrid?
Yeah, sure, but the thing about a Hybrid is, it wouldn’t serve me well. Up here in the mountains, it’s mostly for stop and go driving. I’ve driven a Hybrid up here, but it won’t function on the electrical part of the engine at all.
How many miles do you typically drive every year?
It depends on the year. Some years I’ve road-tripped a lot. Some years I went down to Reno for college. I’ve had to go 25,000 some years, but now my ski career is taking me more on airplanes, so I’d say I average about 15,000 miles per year.
Speaking of your ski career, what direction is that going in?
I’m in with something called the Free Ride World Tour, which is a fairly elite competition circuit for what I do-big mountain skiing. People might call it extreme skiing but it’s steep mountains and cliffs and steep cliff jumps. That will take me to Russia, where the Olympics will be in 2014, to France, then there’s a stop here in Squaw Valley and afterwards is a final in Switzerland.
So, are you competing in the Olympics?
No, it’s not an Olympic sport.
What is the steepest jump you’ve done?
Without a parachute, 140 feet, which was double the previous jumps I’d done. The conditions were just perfect. It was one of those days, I could see from here to there, no problem. I landed soft and safe. I am not going to say that I will never do it again, but I would be surprised if I ever jump another 140-foot cliff again without a parachute.
So is that (sticking tongue firmly in cheek) what they call freebasing? (LAUGHTER)
You just have to freebase to get the nerves up to do a base jump?
Yeah. That’s where I get my courage. (LAUGHS)
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re cruising in Rosebud?
There is no music in there.
What about your truck? Do you have an eight-track in it?
My Ranchero did. Yes, it came with a pile of them. The Doobie Brothers was my favorite.
Speaking of off-road racing, going back a bit believe me, I know it’s expensive, do you plan on going full-time? Like doing a full season of points racing?
It’s more of a hobby. My uncle races a lot more than my dad and I. He races in the class 7SX. It’s more affordable so he can race more often. He’s won points in the past few years in SCORE.
Have you ever had any bad accidents?
Yes. Skiing is bad on the knees. I’ve had three knee surgeries, which is fairly typical for a skier.
What about in cars, any accidents?
Most of my accidents happen in reverse. I back into things.
You just put it in reverse and don’t look?
I’ve never done much damage, but I did bang my mom’s Volvo up onetime pulling out of a 7-11. Never totaled a car. I rolled a couple off-road vehicles. I have a fairly good safety driving record.
On the road you are safe, on the skis you are a different story.
I pay attention to distance in a car. I leave a lot of space between myself and other drivers.
If a car could be the perfect woman, which car would be that perfect woman?
(LAUGHS). I should have studied these questions.
Like a Ferrari is fast and sleek. Rosebud is slow and classic.
Maybe a Volvo, because they’re reliable, safe, fast, fun to drive and pretty good-looking.
So you like to play it safe in relationships?
I’m a rookie. I haven’t had lots of relationships.
When you started dating, any funny stories involving a car and a girl?
I’m sure there is. I’m trying to remember, but nothing is jumping out.
Any kind of road trip that you like to take?
Yes. We have what we call Base Safari, or Basefari, where me and a bunch of guys all have our base gear and we just go for 10 days. We’ll fly to Munich and rent a car, like an Audi A 6, which is bigger and fun to drive. We just kind of cruise around and see Europe. We have outlandish destinations…take a cable car and go on a hike and all of a sudden you’re in some new little town and you have to find your way back.
Sounds fun. Why not rent the Volvo? (LAUGHTER) Tell me about this wing suit. How long have you been the wing suit man? How did you learn about it?
I started wing suit flying in 2004, off of mountains. In 2003,1 started playing with them out of airplanes. Two- thousand two was when I started parachuting at all. It changed my life. I dove right into this sport, tried lots of different aspects of it. The wing suit really appealed to me because it was a way of flying and I think everyone has dreams of flying.
My first suit did not fit, my second was taken by the police before I learned how to fly, then my third one was right. When I got it, I just flew and knew this was it. Like when you get in a car you’ve never driven before and it’s familiar in some way. This red wing suit is what I use today. It handles predictably. It doesn’t have too much power, but what you need. It’s a fascinating sport. Right now it’s escalating because, in this sport, the equipment has been improving a lot the past few years. Athletes have been doing things people thought were never possible. It’s a lot like where skiing was in the late ’90s, when they came out with wing-tip skis and parabolic skis. Every year you’d see ski movies with people doing stuff you’d never seen before.
Do you wing suit here or abroad?
Mostly abroad. There are some places to fly wing suits in California and the western states, but not much. Needless to say, I spend most of my money on plane tickets abroad.
Do you want to say anything about your friend, Shane McConkey?
I miss him. As far as cars are concerned, Shane really affected me because he was a very successful man who drove a very humble vehicle for many years. He always bought with practicality and never had any bling or shine. He has influenced me to be practical with my money. As you know, being a professional athlete, it’s often a short career and it’s important to save and watch your money. Rosebud is a little bit of a soft spot because I have a soft spot in my heart for her. If she needs something, I buy it for her, but if you look at the big picture, it’s practical.
So Rosebud is not just a piece of metal to you. She is an investment and a part of the family.
Yeah. It’s an investment. And it’s not a piece of jewelry. That car drives me all around, □
Can anyone say “Extreme” I found J. T. to be about as down-to-earth as they make ’em. I had a blast interviewing him and I know Catherine loved the snow-capped photo backdrop that Reno, Nevada had to offer that morning. I mean, who has the oomph to jump off cliffs with a zipped- on wing suit without showing any fear!? I enjoyed getting a chance to pick J.T.’s brain about his love of things on either two or four wheels instead of two skis.