Photograph by Jeff Hawe
Snowboarder Jeremy Jones
A snowboarding pioneer risked his career to usher in a new era of exploration in the world’s wildest mountain ranges.
“There is no longer anywhere in the world that I consider too hard to get to,” says big-mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones.
In 2012, for his latest film project, Further, produced by Teton Gravity Research, Jones navigated winds capable of knocking a rider from his feet, lived for days on end in subzero temperatures, and negotiated some of the most challenging avalanche terrain on the planet. At the ends of the Earth and far from rescue, making a mistake—taking a fall or getting caught in an avalanche—comes with the highest consequences.
The 37-year-old wanted to push backcountry snowboarding—or splitboarding, which uses a special snowboard that splits into ski-like parts used with climbing skins so a rider can ascend slopes—into a new era of exploration.
The wildest mountains were fair game, so he picked four of the remotest locations he could find—Japan’s Alps, Austria’s Karwendelgebirge Range, the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard just 600 miles from the North Pole, and Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias—and went to work. Further is the second film in his trilogy. It meant developing gear, integrating alpinism, and climbing to the top of each of the mountains he would ride.
Jones long ago became a legend in the snowboard and ski community for his powerful, improbable descents of Alaska’s mountains. Snowboarder magazine voted him Best Big Mountain Snowboarder of the Year nine times. Images of Jones arcing turns down thousand-foot snow spines inspired a generation of skiers and snowboarders in the '90s and early 2000s. In those days, both athletes and cameramen used helicopters to get in position. By the mid-2000s, Jones found himself craving more adventure, wanting to explore areas by foot where helicopter travel wasn’t feasible or allowed.
“I could shoot those movies with my eyes closed,” says the Truckee, California, resident. “To turn my back on that was difficult. I had to walk away from a scene that I had perfectly wired.”
In 2009, Jones took a twofold professional risk when he decided to make backcountry snowboarding his priority and founded Jones Snowboards with big-mountain and backcountry riders in mind. It meant foregoing helicopters and climbing mountains blanketed in deep snow before descending. That initial effort resulted in the 2010 film Deeper, which brought backcountry snowboarding to a broad audience.
Jones’s calculated bet paid off. Backcountry snowboarding has grown under his leadership. Garage innovators and large manufacturers, sensing the potential in the marketplace, have helped bring splitboarding to a tipping point, but Jones is the undeniable face of the movement.
“I’ve learned more about the mountains in the last four years than I did in the first 15 years of my career,” says Jones. “That’s been the exciting part—learning things on a daily basis. We are just getting started.”
Adventure: Four years ago, riding and filming big lines by helicopter was standard operating procedure. What led you to make such a public switch to splitboarding?
Jeremy Jones: I had a couple of years where all I wanted to do was a camping trip in Alaska. I would try and get the film company I was working with to do it. They would tell me why we couldn’t do it. I’d get to the end of the winter and say, I didn’t do the one thing I wanted to do this year. I realized that in order to do this I would need to create my own group of athletes and cameramen and make this happen on my own.
A: That must have been scary on a couple of different levels.
JJ: It was. I had accepted the fact that I might lose sponsors, that I would fall out of the media spotlight. I was no longer afraid of not getting paid to be a pro snowboarder. Deeper was really a film for myself. I thought this niche core group of people would like it, and I would fall out of the spotlight. That ended up not being the case.
A: With this latest project, Further, you explored Japan, Wrangell-St. Elias, Austria, Svalbard. These are pretty extreme, hard-to-get-to locations. How do you select where you go?
JJ: Terrain has always been my motivator. I see something unique and it really inspires me, and I really get tunnel vision for it. That ends up overtaking my life.
A: Of those locations you’ve traveled in the last two years, what proved to be the most difficult?
JJ: In Austria we were dealing with extreme cold. Minus 20 temps at night and minus 5 during the day. The mountains were massive. Getting to the top of those peaks was a huge endeavor. Japan, out of them all, had the hardest weather. We had people getting knocked off their feet due to wind. Reading the snowpack, dealing with how fast the weather was changing, and the cold coupled with the wind—the weather made that terrain super serious. Trying to deal with that level of terrain with that weather was really difficult.
A: In 2007, you founded Protect Our Winters, an organization that mobilizes the snow sports community to fight global warming. You’ve lobbied in Congress. You tried to integrate sustainable materials into your boards. Why was it important for you to stand up for this issue?
JJ: There is no such thing as a green snowboard. Or a green jacket. Nothing is zero waste or zero energy. We can’t all move into tree houses and eat nuts. That’s unrealistic. We can hang up our snowboards, but the biggest change that needs to happen, where we will see significant differences, needs to happen on Capitol Hill.
Of course, you need to drink out of reusable water bottles, and there are ways to continue to reduce your carbon footprint. We really need to know what elected officials stand for and be up to date on politics. Believe me, that was the last thing I wanted to be a part of. Globally we need to embrace that really it’s our elected officials who can have the big impact on the environment. We can’t sit back and not do something about it. We owe that to future generations.