An old saw says: There are old climbers and there are daring climbers, but there are no daring old climbers. Jeremy Jones can credibly claim to break that mould. A professional snowboarder since his teenage years who traded the competitive circuit for the adrenaline-charged, high-consequence world of big mountain snowboarding, the 47-year-old has accumulated decades of experience executing powder turns on steep faces where one misstep could prove deadly. He shares his accumulated wisdom in the new book”The art of shralpinism: lessons from the mountainswhich he will discuss at a Nov. 10 author event at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center.
“Shralpinism” is a portmanteau of “shredding” and “mountaineering,” two activities Jones combined with aplomb. Much of that effort has taken place on camera, as the star athlete in countless films and the star of the trilogy “Deeper”, “Further” and “Higher”. Jones is also an outspoken outdoor industry leader, who stopped using helicopters for his movies, started a climate nonprofit Protect our winters and founded environmentally conscious manufacturer Jones Snowboards.
Jones spoke to the Seattle Times by phone from his home in Truckee, Calif.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I have kept a journal almost all my life. I read every day. I like the writing process. I felt I could bring a perspective to the mountain community that went beyond textbooks and help people interact with the mountains in a safer and more intimate way.
Going into the mountains is nuanced, both tactically and mentally. One bad call can wipe out a lifetime of good calls.
When you’re making a movie, you can’t dive that deep into how we got to the top of that mountain and figured out how to climb it. What I liked about the book was that I could peel back the layers: that’s how I do it and those are lessons learned.
There are journal entries from the night before where I will potentially step a line out of my comfort zone and right to the edge – error-free snowboarding. I struggle with the overall fear of taking control of your body from these types of decisions.
Is the industry moving beyond endless powder “ski porn” films and more willing to manage risk and process?
There is room for this style of film. I certainly tried to incorporate that into “Deeper”, “Further” and “Higher”. Then you have that party ski movie in the sense of turning up the volume, and just seeing some people tearing up. There is room for both.
What I’m trying to convey is that there is a time when the mountain is ready for you. My new favorite line is: If it’s not a resounding yes, it’s a no. We do not invent the risks in the mountains. We see the the best of the best die every year.
Winter is about to kick in, so why are you saving your most ambitious snowboard for spring?
Early in the season and mid-winter is all about piling up the days and getting stronger. In the spring you are usually dealing with a much simpler snowpack. That doesn’t mean it’s safe, but it’s less complex. What I always prepare for is high pressure from mid-March to May. This is where the biggest and best lines of my life have come down.
With ski resorts becoming more expensive and overcrowded, increasing numbers of people are going directly in the hinterland. Why should aspiring shralpinists spend more time at resorts?
If you have never been on the snow, or very little, the resort gives you more time. It’s about stacking green [skiing as many vertical feet as possible]. There is no shortcut. My thing was to ride more than anyone else in the world and you will hit the top 96th percentile with just a base skill level.
For me, the station is much more about those dark and difficult days. I have no appetite for fashionable powder days. But I certainly love going off-trail, riding marginal snow trail after trail and finding steep, bumpy, icy stuff. This is often the case when you are off-piste skiing, you ride in all types of conditions that are on offer and so having the resort reps is awesome.
I will tell my kids this is the best ice cream we have seen in three years, we have to get to the mountain and enjoy this real east coast ice. [Jones learned to ski in New England, famous for its icy conditions].
What advice do you have for parents of skiers and snowboarders hoping to pique their children’s interest?
Go slowly. There is a danger in being too forceful and driving them away from the sport. This is the biggest mistake. Children are taken out of school at the start of the first year, then in the fifth year they are [burned out].
Don’t try to make your child the next Olympian. It’s so rare, it’s not going to come because they had a better coach. It’s going to come from inside this kid.
Everything is fun: being in nature, with your friends, with your family. Ultimately, none of this has to do with how rad you are at 10 years old.
Cookies and candy don’t hurt either. We’ve always had a rule: if you do three runs, you get a cookie.
How do you continue to progress in the sport at this stage of your career?
You’re not as good as last year. I always went in the winter [with the attitude] nobody cares that you did something great three years ago. Strictly in terms of being a professional skier or professional snowboarder, that’s the mindset you need to have. If I’m in front of a camera, I’m taking that spot from someone else, so I better move on, or step aside and let the next person come up.
Progression is about ending up in the mountains at a place you couldn’t have gone to earlier because you lacked the knowledge to be there. I keep going to that space in the mountains. I’m moving into this different phase of my snowboarding where I figure out how to be self-sufficient in the mountains for days and move efficiently through the mountains to get into these deep sections of these ranges.
My goal has always been dream lines: wide, clean, rippable lines in good snow. These were never the highest peaks and chains, they are the ones that are hidden behind the highest peak. With my understanding of snow and weather, I’m only getting better at this type of snowboarding.
How have injuries influenced your career and how have you evolved?
I developed a back injury and at 23 I was really struggling. There was a time when I thought my snowboarding days were numbered. It forced me to dive into fitness and healing.
Now I can look back and say my back injury was the best thing that ever happened to me. It saved my knees, which is probably why I still snowboard today. I laugh because my diary during my 20s says, “Poor me, I just want to snowboard.”
Never waste a wound – become an expert on it. We are all hurt. It’s how you deal with your injuries that matters.
How to avoid climate pessimism?
My optimism comes from the fact that we have the solutions and that they are creating tons of jobs. We see it with the Inflation Reduction Act and the $28 billion in cleantech manufacturing since the adoption of this bill. Seeing the biggest climate bill pass gives me hope that this is the first of many steps towards a clean energy transition.
What lessons does your book offer the reader who doesn’t ski off-piste, or even ski or snowboard at all?
When I look at lift lines or trailheads on a power day, I wrote the book for those whose life revolves around the mountain. But clearly the lessons learned from the mountains apply to other facets of life, such as “compounding returns”. I have a four minute morning [stretch and fitness] routine. It’s been a day, a month doesn’t mean anything. In four years, it changed my life. I read 20 pages every night. A little each day goes a long way. I talk about it in all facets of my life.