usually by the time conifers like this are showing much brown, they are already dead, unless you are talking about ordinary winter browning. But when you say crispy brown, that doesn't sound natural. Sometimes in winter, the leaves of the tree will yellow or brown naturally. Winter browning does not reddish or dry brown. The leaves may appear slightly yellowed, with brown hints. However, when bent the leaves will spring back quickly and show signs of moisture. If the leaves do not return to green when winter is over, then a more serious problem is at hand.
Otherwise I would guess it is a disease, perhaps some kind of blight.