"Jeremy Jones is an alien. He's just inhumanly good at snowboarding." So lives the legend of this pioneering big-mountain rider. We heard this comment this week from an Alaska-based ski/snowboarding operator, but the sentiment is one that rings throughout the snowboarding world.
Once a pro rider hitting a different big-mountain location every week, Jones's ethos have evolved over the years. Instead of heli-assisted first descents, he now prefers to go the old-fashioned way—on foot or splitboard. "The reality with going on foot is that it can take days to go do one run. It’s definitely a quality over quantity deal," he says. His film trilogy Deeper is aimed to show that you can do world-class freeriding without a helicopter. Further, part two due out September 2012, shows some of the best riders exploring the backcountry the slow way, which makes for a more a richer, more personal snowboarding film.
This falls right in line with Protect Our Winters (POW), a foundation Jones started in 2007 to unite the snow-sports industry and fans to fight climate change. With 30,000 members and some of our favorite athletes as ambassadors, Protect Our Winters is taking their message to the classroom and to Congress.
To kick off skiing and snowboarding season, we caught up with Jones to find out the latest on POW, what it's like to talk to Congress about climate change, and his favorite places to ride. —Mary Anne Potts
Become a Protect Our Winters Member:
This year, Alamos Wines is spreading the love by gifting 1,000 people with yearlong POW memberships. The winery is getting involved because it relies heavily on the snowmelt from the Andes to irrigate its vineyards. Simply register on protectourwinters.org. Your fee will be waived by entering the codeword ALAMOS.
Adventure: What’s going on with Protect Our Winters right now?
Jeremy Jones: The foundation continues to strengthen and grow. We're becoming more educated in doing our job better and making sure that each dollar raised goes as far as possible.
This fall we have been busy with a Hot Planet, Cool Athlete tour, where we take professional athletes into high schools with a scientist. We have this really hip, upbeat presentation on the state of the planet and climate change. We break it down for them and explain ways that they can help. The in-school stuff is the most rewarding, uplifting thing we do at Protect Our Winters because it gives us a level of hope to see the next generation really rise to the challenge of climate change. They really want to make a difference—and they are not accepting defeat like some of the older generations.
A: What's it like to talk to Congress about climate change? Are there any skiers or snowboarders among our elected officials?
Jeremy: Well, there aren’t any snowboarders in Congress. But I have met some die-hard skiers…and general mountain climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. When we go to Congress, sometimes we meet with full champions on climate change who are really excited that we are there. They realize that they need our help, really. Although I would say the discussion on climate has gone the wrong way on Capitol Hill over the last couple years. But there’s hope on Capitol Hill that the ship will be righted and we can start feeling positively.
A: Part of your message is that the snow-sports industry is so big that it really benefits our economy and should be protected. Is that an effective message to sway Congress?
Jeremy: Absolutely. The number one topic is now on Capitol Hill right now is jobs. We go in there and explain that this really is a jobs issue. In any ski town, it’s not just the ski instructor who is out of work if there is now snow. It filters down to the bartenders, the cab drivers, every facet of the town. And if ski areas close, it is as impactful—or more impactful—than a coal mine shutting down. Ski areas are such a huge job creators, such huge tax revenue creators, and they are in jeopardy.
What’s the full size of the snow-sports industry?
Jeremy: $66 billion.
A: Last year the U.S. saw incredible snowfall. And this year it look s like La Nina will be generous again. Does that make it harder for you to convince people there’s cause for concern?
Jeremy: No, there’s climate change everywhere. A lot of the U.S. had a great winter last year, but Alaska had a horrible winter. Europe never even had winter. There are tornados in Massachusetts. There are so many extreme weather events going on these days that are all examples of climate change. I can’t say if it rains in January, Hey, look, it’s climate change. You can’t look at one weather event and claim it’s climate change.
But one thing that has changed since I was a child, for sure, is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was the automatic start to ski season—and a revenue maker for the ski areas. Now, it’s a total maybe. For example, the Northwest is having a great start to winter, and so is Colorado. But New England has no snow. It used to be you were skiing powder on October first. Now it's Thanksgiving and you’re playing golf. And California, where we are, we have no snow. It’s undeniable that Thanksgiving is now a maybe snow holiday. Twenty years ago it wasn’t a maybe.
A: Are there any ski resort are becoming more green?
Jeremy: There’s a handful of what I’d call champions, environmentally, by working on their current carbon footprint: Aspen, Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Grand Targhee, just to name a few.
But the biggest lack and the biggest frustration that we are seeing from the ski area industry is that they are not leveraging their power on Congress. These ski areas are major job creators, they are major tax revenue creators, and they could flex their power toward officials to say climate change is real and we want you voting to for climate change for pro-environmentals issues. That’s really important. And the ski resorts so far have just sat on their hands and have not put pressure on elected officials.
A: Maybe that’s coming next?
Jeremy: Well, there’s always next year. At Protect Our Winters, we’re trying to gear up for the next election. And with these election cycles…we are going to Capitol Hill. Who is in office has a big effect on how we will reduce our carbon footprint as a nation.
But we also need to be active locally. At Protect our Winters we are targeting states that are on the fence with climate legislation, where maybe they have good and bad votes toward the environment. We are going to those places with companies and local pro athletes to really talk to the state capitols and let them know it’s really important for the state. This is all stuff we are continuing to do better.
Every time we go to Capitol Hill, we learn, but it’s one step. The next huge step is what we do when we get home to keep the momentum going.
A: You’ve got really great support from other professional skiers and snowboarders. How many are you working with?
Jeremy: We call them the POW Riders Alliance, and there are 20 working formally with us. But there’s been a ton of pro athletes that embraced what we are doing with POW. We are, as pros, in the snow everyday of our whole lives. We don’t have to put energy into convincing someone who has been in the mountains his or her whole life that climate change is real. They all see it and they all want to help.
A: How big is your membership of snow enthusiasts?
I think we’re roughly 30,000. That’s why we get to go to Capitol Hill, because they see that this is an important issue and we speak to a lot of people. The more support we have the stronger and more effective we can be as an organization.
A: How did you pick the locations for you upcoming film Further?
Jeremy: Through a lot of reseach. For me, 80 percent of my snowboarding is done in my local range, the Sierra. Ten years ago every week I was traveling to a new location, always chasing that first descent. Now I do is just one or two big trips. They are generally about a month long, well researched, and I really make them count. They are places that really have world-class snowboarding that are relatively empty. The mountain is not seeing a lot of traffic and the terrain is unridden.
A: What was your favorite destination in the film?
Jeremy: Well, we are still shooting. But we spent a month in the Arctic, then in the high Alps of Japan, and they were totally different. But I’d say the Arctic trip was really special.
We were in this place called Svalbard. To be 600 miles from the North Pole and in such a unique landscape—it literally was like no place I’ve ever seen in the world. The 24 hours of daylight. The whole experience was so different from anything I’ve experienced and the snowboarding was phenomenal. It was really a snowboarder’s paradise. And I have hardly seen any snowboarders there ever.
A: Sounds like a great adventure.
Jeremy: In the Arctic, we flew into the town closest to the North Pole. From there we took these snowscooters 150 miles to the drop off. The snowscooters were these really beefy snowmobiles that can take all your gear and three to four people on them. We camped on the glaciers for three weeks. We hiked all our lines, then got picked up, and drove back.
A: And the hike up, shred down is your preferred way of doing things, right?
Jeremy: Definitely. My goal with Deeper is to show snowboarders that world-class freeriding can be done on foot and doesn’t require a helicopter. I’m seeing numbers way up in the backcountry, and that’s cool. It’s reinvigorating guys that have been in the sport for a long time, but maybe started moving on to other things because they were not that excited to go ride the same run at their same resort that they had been doing the last ten years.
With pro snowboarders, splitboarding is part of their quiver. And there are more pro snowboarders on splitboards than five years ago. That’s drastically changed. But for making these films and doing these photo shoots, the helicopter is still the status quo. The helicopter is an incredible tool to go out and shoot a movie with.
A: Certainly there are heightened safety risks with more people going into the backcountry?
Jeremy: I spend a lot of time and energy doing avalanche awareness stuff. We just today started Jones Snowboards Avalanche Awareness Month. I hope to inspire people to get into the mountains. But with that comes responsibility to educate people on being safe. So at Jones Snowboards we will always put energy into educating people. And on a personal level, I also am always trying to advance my knowledge and continue to take classes and get as smart as I can about reading the mountains.
A: Do you wear an avalanche backpack with the airbag?
Jeremy: For sure, it’s very effective. I’ve never had to use it. I’d say if I could pick one piece of avalanche safety equipment to take with me into the mountains, I would say, hands down, it would be an airbag.
A: What’s new with Jones Snowboards?
Jeremy: All of the product I’m really proud of … the more time I get to spend on it, the more I love it. We have reshaped our Mountain Twin, which I am really excited about. It’s a lot of fun. Then we have a bunch of women’s specific products that I am also really psyched to bring to the market.
A: Including a splitboard for women?
Jeremy: From day one, the women have been screaming and yelling, Where’s our stuff? And we’ve taken notice. It’s really common to see a lot of women in the backcountry freeriding. Women don’t have the as much as of a need to be in the park learning a new trick, like a lot of men do. Women are much more comfortable with cruising the whole mountain and enjoying that aspect of snowboarding.
A: Where’s your favorite spot to go snowboarding?
Jeremy: The Sierra, for sure, just because it's my backyard, it’s very vast, and there’s so much terrain. They Sierra are so protected that it’s really easy to just park your car at the side of the road and go into the mountains for days at a time and never see signs of another person. That’s really nice, really accessible.
But Alaska, for sure, is my favorite place. It’s a dream scenario for snowboarders. The way the mountains are, the types of snow they get, the types of terrain. It’s for sure a snowboarders’ paradise.
A: What's your next snowboarding trip?
Jeremy: I am going to a range north of here to scope it out before it really starts snowing before we go film. I’ll be snowboarding California and Nevada until the spring when I go up to Alaska.
A: So are you being a little nonspecific on purpose? That’s fine…just checking.
Jeremy: I’m being a little non-specific on purpose.