Jeremy Jones

Words:  Keith Hamm  Photos:  Dan Milner

As of this writing, Jeremy Jones is posted up deep in the Alaskan wilderness, scouting his next batch of trophy lines. Even for a man widely considered the best big-mountain snowboarder on the planet, these sorts of expeditions are gambles of the highest order. If he reads the weather wrong, frostbite will be the least of his worries. If he drops his guard on rockfall, he could get crushed. And if he gets cocky in avalanche territory, he could get buried forever.

Fortunately for Jones — and for his loved ones back at home — he tends to obsess on life-or-death logistics with a passion equal to his long love affair with snowboarding. To say he’s meticulous is an understatement. And it’s that devotion to his own safety and the safety of his crew that consistently brings him back from the mountains with groundbreaking footage.

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For the past half decade, Jones has also concentrated some of his intense focus on the very real threat of climate change. In 2007, he founded Protect Our Winters (POW) to unite the global winter sports community toward the common goal of reducing climate change’s effects on winter sports and the local economies that depend on them.

In addition to his work with the nonprofit, Jones has literally taken thousands of steps toward reducing his own carbon footprint, building a reputation as a backcountry pioneer who hikes into new snowboarding territory instead of riding a snowmobile or getting dropped off by a helicopter. Along the way, he’s discovered that getting to the peak is just as rewarding as dropping in from it, and to facilitate his treks to the top, he’s invested heavily in splitboards, snowboards that can be separated into two skis that enable mountain ascents similar to alpine touring. For more on that, check out his company, Jones Snowboards.

For the following Q&A, Prolific caught up with Jones at home the day before the 39-year-old goofy-footer shoved off to Alaska to gather footage for Further, the second installment of a trilogy he’s spearheading called Deeper, Further, Higher.

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Jones split boarding in Austria for the filming of Further. Photo: Dan Milner

Prolific: You’re heading to Alaska tomorrow. Give us some background.

Jones: I’ll be gone four to six weeks to Wragell-St. Elias National Park [and Preserve]. It’s basically 13 million acres. It’s seen very little snowboarding. The long and the short of it is that we’re going to a really vast, unexplored part of the country. I’ll go in and research the area and pick a spot to set up base camp, and we’ll go in and spend about a month getting to know the mountains and the conditions and hopefully ride what I would call trophy lines.

What are you most excited and passionate about these days?

I’m really excited about this trip. Besides my family — I have a three-year-old and six-year-old and it’s incredible watching them grow and evolve — snowboarding is still the top of the heap. I have a handful of different things going on outside of being a pro snowboarder but for sure my energy and motivation is still on what I’m doing in the mountains.

When you were a kid, is this what you wanted to be doing when you got older?

Early on, probably when I was eight years old or so, I knew that I was going to be in the mountains in the snow my whole life. I didn’t grow up in the mountains. My grandfather lived in the mountains and I would go up there as a little kid and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and I hated leaving. And I knew as soon as I was able to, I would be living where there was snow on the ground all year long. Then I got really into snowboarding, and by 12 or 13 I was already figuring out how to set up my life so that I would be in the best spots in the world for snowboarding and on the best days.

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At what points along that path did you have decisive moments about getting more involved with environmental issues?

I grew up on Cape Cod so we always studied the pilgrims when I was a kid. And they always talked about the harsh winters. And I’d look out the window and see grass and wonder where’s all the snow. And that’s when I first heard about climate change. But I didn’t dig in and say, “I’m going to solve this!” That didn’t come until later as I started spending time in Chamonix in places that have seen definitive change in a relatively short period of time. In Chamonix, there’s one glacier in particular that’s a ski run, the Vallee Blanche. I don’t know the exact date, but they set up a train station, I want to say in the 1930s. So you’d get down the glacier and hop on the train. And years went by and then the glacier is so far from the train that they had to build a chairlift to go from the glacier to the train. And now it’s like an hour hike to go from the glacier to the chairlift to the train.

And once I was in northern British Columbia at a closed ski resort that was all grass. I was with a local guy who had grown up skiing there. He was 30 and he was telling me how he has all these great memories of growing up skiing there and how it just doesn’t snow there anymore. He was 30. That’s one generation. That’s real in-your-face stuff.

What’s the best thing a person can do to help? A starting point?

We just launched this POW Seven, which is seven things you can do. They range from being conscious of your personal carbon footprint all the way up to being really up to speed politically with the issues and flexing your power as an individual to vote for the environment and to let your congresspeople know when they’re doing something you don’t like. Those are two ends of the spectrum, but all seven steps are important.

Jones and Terje Haakenson prepare their equipment having climbed to the top of couloirs – an hour’s hike from camp on the island of Svalbard during the filming of Further. Photo: Dan Milner

Are you hopeful or pessimistic?

I’m a positive person, but a lot of the stuff we’re coming up against can be pretty damn deflating. But as we get more involved I see areas that give us great hope. One example is when we go into these schools and interact with the kids. I have hope for the future generations. I don’t have much hope in the Baby Boomers to make major change. But I do believe in this generation coming up.

One area that’s giving us some hope right now is that green energy is really starting to work. The price per kilowatt for solar and wind power continues to go down toward oil levels. That can’t be denied. The truth always wins out, and for the people saying that solar and wind are not good alternatives, they’re going to start losing that battle.

From a career standpoint, what are you most proud of?

I’m still so in the midst of it, but I think for the most part that I’ve had a pretty positive influence on snowboarding and I’ve been in this fortunate situation to be a professional snowboarder, and I’m now trying to utilize that opportunity the best I can to do things like Protect Our Winters. And from my company’s standpoint, we try to do good things for snowboarding, avalanche safety stuff, keeping people alive, educating them. We build good products and we’re trying to inspire people to get out there and ideally experience the best day of their life.

Jones descends a narrow chute. Arctic Circle; Svalbard Photo: Dan Milner

And what have been the failures or frustrations, and how did you deal with them?

From a career perspective, I feel like all the hangups along the way were so essential to getting me where I am today. As a pro snowboarder I learned early on that you have to follow your heart and do what really makes you excited to get on the mountain that day, and it’s irrelevant what the rest of the sport is doing or considers cool. That’s always been my guiding light: I have so much fun and I’m so motivated with my personal snowboarding that I’m not really concerned with the masses.

As you’ve gotten older and moved into fatherhood, how do you stay frosty and stay safe at the same time?

My kids motivate me to be up to speed, to make sure I’m putting in my time, always learning more. Every fall I put energies toward learning new stuff, going to avalanche safety classes, constantly trying to be better prepared mentally and physically in the mountains.

And one of the biggest changes in my snowboarding now is that I’m much better at backing off of lines that are potentially deadly. So I turn my back on the mountain more than I used to, but it’s still dangerous what I do and I try to put as much energy into limiting those risks as much as possible.

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What other outdoorsmen or pro athletes do you look up to for inspiration or humility while facing danger in the wilderness?

I’ve always looked to my elders, and not just the big-name heroes. I have a lot of people here in town that nobody’s ever heard of that are 15, 20 years older than me. I get out in the mountains with them. I always try to surround myself with people who are older than me, who are living the life that I want to live or have lives that I admire. I just try and surround myself with those people and ask a lot of questions and learn. I get that a lot just in my hometown, and I have good friends around the world and I’ve learned from all of them.

But from a more mainstream set, there’s guys like Kelly Slater, Yvon Chouinard, guys like that who I’m really impressed with.

Are you a religious person?

What I would say is that the mountains are my church and I pray everyday. I’m not into organized religion, I should say. But I’ve definitely seen — I shouldn’t say I’ve “seen” — I definitely feel an energy in the mountains. That is my religion.

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Does that play into your decisions when you’re there?

No. I mean, I’m not asking god to get me down the mountain. What I try to do in the mountains is really immerse myself in them and really block out what goes on outside of the mountains. I really look at stepping into the mountains as walking through a portal into a different world where the everyday challenges and rules of society are totally irrelevant. I find that my best snowboarding goes down when I’m totally oblivious to the “real world.”

 What scares you out there?

I would say, in general, what scares me the most is not coming home. But specifically, a ton of our energy is put toward reading the avalanche conditions. There are always all sorts of crevasses, cornices, rockfall, and all these other factors. But a lot of our energy is looking at what are the risks of an avalanche.

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Do you come home with lessons for your kids?

The cool thing with kids is that they’re such sponges. It’s like every second is a learning experience. It’s hard to pin down an answer, but obviously, you know, I try and teach them to respect the environment, and I think just a general rule is when you’re in serious places, you have to focus on what’s going on around you. Once you’ve seen a six-year-old go flying down the hill on skis, you kind of have a new respect for the dangers of that kid looking the other way and running into a tree. I just try to get them to understand that when they’re in higher-risk situations to focus on the task at hand.

Anything you want to add?

Live to ride another day. That’s a Gerry Lopez quote. He’s another inspiration.

 

Jones rides out from the bottom of a couloir and to safety before beginning another hike back up on the islands of Svalbard.  Photo: Dan Milner

Jones rides out from the bottom of a couloir and to safety before beginning another hike back up on the islands of Svalbard. Photo: Dan Milner

 


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