Jeremy Jones is a wild man. Not only has he single-handedly defined professional big-mountain riding over the last decade, he also just voluntarily stepped away from what that definition implied, abandoning helicopters and other vehicles in exchange for a splitboard, his two feet, and a tent. In the process, Jeremy realized that the perceived limitations to riding wrought from a human’s ability to ascend under their own power are a fallacy. Unbeknownst to Jeremy when he set out on this path was the fact that machines also have limitations. They are not only limited in what they can access, but more importantly, they are limited in the satisfaction they can enable.
I spoke to Jeremy Jones about the diversity and accessibility of professional snowboarding. The interview is an excerpt from the upcoming book Current State: Snowboarding.
David Benedek ––
David Benedek: I am going to hit you with the most general question first. When you look at how snowboarding grew into what it is now, from supersmall ghetto backyard runs to Olympic craziness and whatever it might be today, where do you think did we arrive? Are we some recreational thing now?
Jeremy Jones: [Laughs] Well…I think in one way the bubble’s burst that we’re not going to be the biggest sport in the world. We are not going to continually grow 30% a year, but if you told me twenty years ago while I was riding my Backhill and trying to figure out how to make a turn that snowboarding would be where we are today, well… I mean, we’ve come such a long way in such fast period of time; it’s been like a rocket ship to the moon. I feel that snowboarding is basically beyond the teenage years now. I still think like we’re like late teens. Look at your nineteen-year-old kid—that’s what snowboarding is. Like a couple of years ago, we were like that thirteenyear-old who really doesn’t know what the hell is going on. [Laughs] You know—all over the map, doing some cool stuff, doing some stupid stuff, super high-schooled-out. I feel like we’re coming out of it and we’re getting a little bit more mature and we have some stronger values now. Smoke and mirrors isn’t going to work anymore. The cool thing from a freeride perspective is that even as we had all these wild things happening along the way—you know, up to your “Right Guard” towers on the side of the pipe and all that—freeriding’s just always been there.
You mean it doesn’t really touch you.
Yeah, we’re pretty isolated from all that. People have always lined up for first chairs around the world and freaked out about powder. And that’s not going to change.
What did change?
One thing I feel that’s really cool is that I believe we’ve broken through this huge barrier in a lot of different ways; a design barrier with different shapes and products and, in general, opening up to a broader spectrum of snowboarding. From, you know, fully urban kids who just ride in the city all the way to your noboarders, splitboarders, and everyone in between, the spectrum in snowboarding is really large. I think it’s important to have this many different aspects, and embrace them and allow them to flourish.
I was just thinking about that when I saw the photo of you climbing that wall in Verbier, using frigging ice screws and all that. As in, I love the fact that that’s part of the same sport as the kid that’s all about partying and switch back lipslides.
I agree with you 100%! And the buzz is the same, no matter whether it’s that kid landing a new trick or me splitboarding in alpine terrain.
Totally, and that is something that’s really been happening in the past few years.
Right. We’re not as afraid. I feel like we just embrace it when someone can bring in something new. When noboarding started, everyone was like, “Yeah, that’s really cool, man—keep it up!” And jibbing is the same deal, like, “Oh, you ride in the city and that’s what snowboarding is to you—that’s frigging cool. Go do it!” I heard about this new bungee cord that can pull you into rails on flatground at up to 40 mph; it’s totally changing the rules to where speed is no longer an issue, which is pretty amazing.
How about your personal approach to snowboarding? Has that changed?
Well, a lot of it was always about exploring. From the very first days in AK, you know, there wasn’t a single dot on the map, so that feeling of getting in a helicopter and not knowing what’s beyond the next ridge was amazing. And with that thought of the best line of my life possibly being right around the corner, the feeling you get from this huge blank canvas is one of the coolest feelings in the world… That’s what’s motivating me to keep exploring.
So, all the hiking and splitboarding you do now…is that mostly to explore new terrain, or are you generally trying to stay away from heliing?
It’s a combination of both. Exploring new terrain is essential to me, but it’s also the feeling of being out there by yourself. I mean, a helicopter is a pretty disruptive deal. When you’re out hiking, really immersed in the mountains and able to approach a big face and look at it on the way up for hours and hours of hiking, it’s such a different experience. Mapping out every turn, maybe even sleeping on the face—it just builds and builds and builds. You’re having this all-day experience, and after ripping down it you get hit with this feeling… It’s really like nothing I’ve felt before.
I think it’s pretty impressive how you’re basically abandoning the way you used to work before and going back to a very down-to-earth version of snowboarding. Was it a tough decision at all to leave the heli and everything else you were used to using to get your job done behind?
[Laughs] You know, what I am currently doing feels so good. To me, there’s absolutely no question that I am on the right path, but, of course, despite being locked in and totally committed to what I am doing now, I still occasionally get hit with this fear in the middle of the night, as in “What am I doing? Why am I turning my back on my bread and butter, guaranteed shots, and my guaranteed job?” I guess my point is that it is a big challenge to change your course. It takes a lot of guts in anything.
I spoke to Nicolas Müller about this recently, and he’s a very firm believer that listening to your gut will always be rewarded. I can definitely think of a handful of pros who wouldn’t dare to risk cutting the umbilical cord to their Audi.
It’s been really funny, because I’ve been going to Alaska for fifteen years now, and we’ve explored all these new areas and done all this pretty rad stuff, and now the first year I go there without a helicopter, the media is all over it—ESPN and everyone. I think the story of pro riders going from heli lodge to heli lodge is simply becoming less and less of a good story.
It’s just inaccessible in the first place…
Yeah; it’s showing the obvious disconnect between über-pro and everyday rider that we’ve had throughout the last years.
I agree. But I’m pretty stoked on how that’s changing—I think we’ll see less polished bullshit in the future. There’s been so much superficial million-dollar snowboarding, especially in films, that people really get attracted to honest and real stories.
Yeah, exactly. And that’s my motivation: accessibility—being able to show that world-class freeriding doesn’t require a huge travel budget, helicopters, or snowmobiles. You can get out there and with a little bit of effort, you can achieve it; it’s right off the side of the road. The environmental benefits are great, even though they are more of a by-product. Helicopters are great, but I’m not up there wishing I was in one. The experience without one is just so much richer and so much more fulfilling, and that’s the bottom line.
This interview is an excerpt from David’s upcoming book, Current State: Snowboarding.
This content was originally published in SNOWBOARDER’s October 2009 issue.