Big-mountain snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones leaves snowmobiles and helicopters behind, opts to hike his lines instead
Truckee, Calif.-based professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones is changing the way the world looks at big-mountain riding. For years, Jones had been riding and filming in zones that can only be accessed via helicopters and snowmobiles, but all that changed when he decided to leave the motorized help behind (for the most part–there were some plane trips involved). He opted instead to venture into the mountains on foot in search of untouched terrain for his newest movie, Deeper, in conjunction with O’Neill and Teton Gravity Research. The documentary-esque film puts viewers in the athletes’ boots as Jones and a crew of the world’s top freeriders, including Travis Rice, Xavier De Le Rue, Josh Dirksen, Ryland Bell, Jonaven Moore, Forest Shearer and more, venture into the unknown in locations like Alaska, Antarctica, Europe, Utah and right here in California’s Sierra Nevadas. These men (more like machines) endure a multitude of extremes, including all-night hikes up their chosen lines, sleeping on top of peaks to hit said run at first light, camping on a glacier 65 miles from civilization for weeks on end, 20-below temperatures, 10-day snow storms and 20 mile days. “I’ve been snowboarding 25 years, and I don’t think that I’ve ever learned more and evolved more in a two-year period than these last two years,” Jones recently shared with Submerge from his home. “And it’s years 24 and 25! That pretty much sums up why snowboarding is such an amazing sport.”
Most of the evolution Jones speaks of came in his mountaineering skills; to simply call Jones a snowboarder would be a crime. The sheer magnitude of hiking, climbing and camping he is doing is on a whole other level than any other snowboarder or skier has ever achieved. Deeper was shot over two years and Jones says the progression, learning curve and overall dedication from the crew was drastically different from year one to year two. “For example, an early wake-up on the first year would be 5:30 a.m.,” Jones said of their morning hike start-times. “The second year was 2:30 a.m., you know, just realizing what it really takes to get the big lines.”
In the following interview, Jones chats with us about Deeper, hints at his plans for filming with Travis Rice this year as well as his rumored follow-ups to the film, and he even offers up advice for those looking to get out and explore the backcountry in the Lake Tahoe region.
One of the first questions that came to mind when I watched Deeper was how many times you said, “I’ve never done anything like this before,” during the filming of this movie. That is pretty much what this movie is all about, isn’t it? The trek into the unknown…
Yeah, and I came up with that line, “A snowboard adventure into the unknown,” because every day, every trip, we were like, “Well let’s go see what we’re going to find out there and figure out how to do it.” It seemed like right up ‘til the end I was doing stuff I’d never done before. It was classic, because the last Deeper trip was in the High Sierra, and it was kind of a wind-down trip. We had a cameraman with us, but we were just like, “We’ll see how it is,” which is how a lot of these trips are. But it was funny because we were back home in spring, a pretty mellow deal compared to what we’d been dealing with, and right up until the last morning of filming I’m like doing stuff I’d never done before. It was endless the amount of times I said, “Never done that before!” What changed going into the mountains two years ago from how we go into the mountains now, it’s so drastic.
Fifteen years filming, 45-plus movie parts and you end up in a tent waiting out a 10-day storm on a glacier in Alaska 60-plus miles from any “town.” How rough was that? Had you ever been through anything like that before?
Well, it’s funny because I’ve been going to Alaska for five to eight weeks a year for 16 years and I had never seen a storm last that long and be that intense for that long. I was with Tom Burt also, who’s done even more time in Alaska, and we were just like, “There’s just no way it’s going to keep going. It’s got to end sometime.”
So every day you tell yourself, “It’s got to end sometime,” but at what point did you start asking yourself if you were crazy?
You know, day eight, day nine, day 10, you start going, “Was this a good idea? Is this feasible? Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.” Then out of nowhere… It’s amazing, for how much weather forecasting that we have, it still comes down to, “Wake up and see.” In Cali, it’s way easier to predict… Then on day 12 we wake up, and it’s perfectly clear and then it’s on and after your first run you forget about the last 12 days.
On trips like that one where you’ve sort of rounded up a select crew and talked them into something so extreme: camping on a glacier, hiking massive faces, etc., do you feel responsible for them the whole time?
I don’t in the sense of like, if they get stuck in a tent for 10 days, then whatever, it’s part of the game. I do if someone ends up getting in a big avalanche or something, then for sure. But that trip, it’s funny because we went out thinking we were going to be out for five to 10 days, and then it turned into a 26-day trip. We realized once we got out there, “You know what, this is really hard.” It takes a whole day to move, there’s no going back into town for a storm and coming back out. We needed to live it.
When you’re standing on top of a line that you’ve been studying for weeks, maybe even months, and that you just hiked up with your own two feet, what’s going through your head right before you drop in?
It’s pretty much all joy. There’s total confidence, because at that point you’re standing on a line that you’ve looked at for so long and the fact that you were able to climb it, you’re super confident that the snow is safe. You know exactly where you’re going to go. Like the last line, “The Wall of Walls,” that I hit at the end of the second Alaska segment, I could look at that from my tent door. I had skinned underneath it. I had hiked and looked at it from every angle imaginable, I probably mind-surfed the thing a thousand times; when it was all said and done I probably stared at that thing for 40 hours. And then I’m on the top of pretty much the biggest line of my life, and it’s got full exposure and I don’t even need to look at a photo of this thing. I’m thinking, “I know every inch of this thing.”
In the Chamonix, France, segment there’s one line you guys end up stepping away from after multiple attempts, Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey. Is that something on your hit list still? When can fans expect to see you take that one down?
That thing is so rare to be in form, and we spent two weeks on it in prime season, made three attempts on it in a 10-year cycle. It hadn’t been that good in 10 years, and we came up short. And you know, those three attempts were full-on three-day attempts each of them; camping, hiking, all sorts of riffs going on getting to it. If the stars align perfectly and I’m back in Chamonix and the thing’s in form, then yeah, that thing will go down. I really have to plan a trip around it, because that stuff goes down at like middle to end of May. That one may not come back. It’s a very dirty line, there’s so much secondary exposure, and in general I really try and avoid that much secondary.
Switching gears a little, you’re big on sustainability and protecting the environment. Is it important to you to spread the message that splitboarding is a great way to get out and explore the backcountry without motorized help?
First and foremost that message is really important for people to realize that freeriding doesn’t require a huge wallet. There’s not a huge price tag. You know, 1 percent of snowboarders can afford to go to Alaska and go heli’ing.
There’s a reason why we don’t ever really reference the environment in Deeper, because there’s a carbon footprint to that movie. It’s a lot smaller than other movies. It’s a sensitive subject, but the thing I can take away from Deeper is that people come out of it inspired, they want to get into the mountains, hopefully they get into the mountains and learn to love the mountains, and then they hopefully protect the mountains. That’s a really simple deal there; it’s also really powerful. That’s the thing, it’s more showing people, “Hey you can go freeride, it doesn’t matter how much money you have.”
Most of our readers are in the greater Sacramento area, so for someone who is new to splitboarding and/or backcountry riding and hiking, where would you suggest to start out? Are there intermediate spots?
Yeah, Mt. Rose! Or closer to you guys is ASI [Alpine Skills International], you know, Donner Summit. But the thing is, with this area, people need to realize that this is like one of the best places in the world. We get often times more snow than any place in the world, and we traditionally have the safest snow pack in the world, which is amazing. You need to get up to speed and stuff, but you can get up to speed a lot quicker in California than you can in say Colorado or Utah as far as like learning when the good days are.
Yeah, like the general rule in Cali is we have the “five red flags,” and one of the red flags is “90 percent of avalanches happen during or within 24 hours of a storm.” And with the 24 hour settlement rule, if you watch the Sierra Avalanche Center’s website with a daily forecast that goes live at 7 a.m. every morning, you’ll see it snow like 12 feet, then have one sunny day, and during that big storm the avalanche stability might be “extreme” or “high” or whatever, it’s dangerous. But just one day of sun and then you are dealing with low avalanche probabilities. Every day they issue a report if it’s low, moderate, considerable, high or extreme. Eighty percent of the time it’s low in California.
Which is just awesome for someone who is looking to get out and explore!
Yeah! The sled zones make up about 3 percent of the Sierra, so to really get out there you’ve got to do it on foot.
That’s such a crazy figure to me! The possibilities are endless for you now. When is the last time you hopped in a heli to hit a line?
It’s been two years.
When is the next time you see yourself hopping in a heli to hit a line?
I do have a trip with Travis Rice [for his newest project, Flight]. I’m still on the fence if I’m going to do it. But, you know, if special things like that come along…
It’s almost like you can’t say no to that.
I’m having a hard time saying no to it. But as far as like going back to my traditional program, those days are definitely over–as far as if I’m putting together on a trip, I’m not putting together heli trips. That’s a pretty unique opportunity in snowboarding, and it would take something like that. That’s something I’ve been very clear about is to never say, “I’m done with helis forever.” I’m sure the time will come, something like this Travis movie comes along, but it’s definitely not my focus.
I ride at Sierra-at-Tahoe and have heard a lot about the addition of Huckleberry Canyon to their ski boundaries a couple seasons back. You can access five gates from their main lift and they take tours and they’re educating people about backcountry skiing and riding and are incorporating it into the resort experience. Do you think more resorts should try and do something similar?
Absolutely, man! I’ve been lobbying hard to get some gates at Squaw. In this day and age for resorts to have closed boundaries seems criminal to me. It’s really cool; it’s a great trend. They’re even doing it on the East Coast now at a resort that I partially grew up riding, Sugarloaf [in Maine], they just doubled their acreage by opening up side-country. This peak right next to it that you have to hike to, it’s a perfect North facing aspect. It’s genius.
I read somewhere you’re doing two more films in the coming years, Further and Higher, as follow-ups to Deeper. Are those just ideas or what? What can you tell me about those projects?
They are solid ideas for sure. I’m still kind of digesting Deeper and seeing if the funding is out there and kind of kicking around and trying to figure out if I’m going to do this Travis Rice thing or not. But I’d like to think there’d be some more coming.
I’ll end with an easy one: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think snowboarding would take you this far?
I knew from an early age that I’d be living in the snow and snowboarding every day, and I always kind of had that pursuit to ride really good terrain. But no, when I started snowboarding there was no such thing as “pro snowboarders.” So no, I definitely have far surpassed my expectations. I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity that I’ve had and also I realize how lucky I am and that’s why I take full advantage of it. There’s a lineup of people that would love this opportunity.
Grab a copy of Deeper at your local snowboard or ski shop or download it on iTunes. For more information or to view the trailer, visit www.tetongravity.com/deeper