Jeremy Jones is a pioneer and certainly an “outlier” when it comes to snowboarding. From being one of the first snowboarders to head to the steep mountains of Alaska, to ditching engines in exchange for splitboards, and getting us all gripped while watching his trilogy of big mountain exploration films, Deeper, Further, and the upcoming Higher….to starting his own snowboarding company, Jones Snowboards. His work on a snowboard rivals what he’s done off his board with the creation of the environmental non-profit, Protect Our Winters. I recently had a chance to sit down with Jeremy at the iconic and beloved Snowboard Connection in Seattle to talk about his career path, Jones Snowboards, Protect Our Winters, and what he’s got in store this winter.
Molly: Welcome to the show Jeremy. Thank you for coming down today.
Jeremy: No problem, glad to be here and catch up with you.
Molly: I would like to start a little bit by going backwards. You went from Massachusetts to the Himalayas and you have been all over the world, I would love to know how that all started.
Jeremy: It definitely all started on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. At a very young age I got into skateboarding—I just fell in love with that sideways stance—and that led to surfing. Meanwhile my grandfather was living in Vermont, and we would go visit him. I was really into the snow and the mountains, and the contrast from Cape Cod. I started skiing before snowboarding came along and I enjoyed it, but it was at the local general store that I saw my first Burton Backhill. I got one for Christmas that year—thank you Santa haha. I started by riding in my backyard and going up to the ski resort when it closed. I did that for a couple years and eventually got more and more into snowboarding as the years went on. I started coming home earlier and earlier from skiing so I could snowboard. Then in 1987, my home resort of Stowe, Vermont, allowed snowboarding. I got on a snowboard and the rest was history.
Molly: Was there something about snowboarding that was different from other things you might have been into or did?
Jeremy: I grew up playing a lot of soccer and lacrosse—actually I played a lot of sports and was always really into them. But it was snowboarding that changed me. For some reason, I fell in love with that combination of being in the mountains, being sideways, and kind of surfing the mountains. And I played a ton of hockey, because I grew up in Massachusetts, and hockey is really serious there. I was playing hockey eleven months a year, then started blowing off hockey to go snowboarding, and then the coaches started calling.
Molly: I bet your parents weren’t sad about that…(kidding)
Jeremy: They actually were not sad. When I was really into hockey, I was staying with coaches on weekends and they were going up to Vermont. They were like, “Have fun with that hockey…we’ve seen enough of these rinks.” But it was funny when I stopped; the coaches told me I couldn’t stop. I told them, “Yes I can.” Haha.
Molly: That’s funny. I feel like a lot of people who start snowboarding are kind of transitioning out of competitive team sports.
Molly: A lot of people go through that struggle, because of what’s promoted to us or what’s accessible are usually these competitive team sports. So when you’re a teenager, you try to fit in by participating in them. I think a lot of people teeter on that. I never fit within traditional team sports. I feel like I finally found a home or family within snowboarding.
Jeremy: I enjoyed team sports, but there was something about snowboarding that drew me. It was this avenue with no rules. Everything was new. Everything was fresh. It was just totally free and very creative. Now 25 years later, I think that connection of being outside and being in the mountains was really strong. Early on, I never understood the comment, “oh, it’s just about being in the mountains.” I was like, “whatever man. I’m just here to snowboard.” Now I have a blast snowboarding, no matter what the conditions are. And eventually I guess I realized that it is just about being in the mountains.
Molly: Would you say you have a spiritual connection to snowboarding and to the mountains?
Jeremy: I do. I think I am very connected to the mountains and outdoors. I say that because sometimes now when I make these movies (Deeper, Further, Higher), the tour puts me on the road through cities for weeks on end. I really become unglued if I’m away from the outdoors for long periods of time. I get spun out. I don’t necessarily realize it at the time, but when I get back into the mountains, it’s like this weight has been lifted and I can breathe normal again. It’s just this spiritual experience.
Molly: So you just mentioned the film you’re working on. You have a pretty serious trilogy of films. You started with Deeper and Further, and now you’re working on finishing up Higher. I read an interview with you recently and you talked about how Higher represents the pinnacle—your lifetime achievement. Can you talk a little bit more about that? What was it about the experience from Higher that led you to that conclusion?
Jeremy: The one thing I’ve always tried to do with my snowboarding is move forward and use all the experience I’ve had in my life and build upon it for the next day. When I started with Deeper, it was really a big shift for me. I had been making films using helicopters and snowmobiles, like most backcountry movies. I got really good at using helicopters to access mountains and I could make a film really fast with helicopters. With Deeper, I walked away from that and went through a huge learning curve. I had to figure out how to camp in the mountains for weeks at a time and execute a major mission just to get to the top of the mountains I wanted to ride. I still find myself in situations where I needed every moment of experience in my life to get where I was. To me, that is a great feeling. That’s where I’m breaking new ground, personally, and it’s very invigorating.
Molly: You are certainly an inspiration to a ton of people in snowboarding, but who inspires you?
Jeremy: I’ve been fortunate to be around amazing people—in and out of the mountains—and I always have my eyes open and pick up on different things. Right now, the people I’m in the mountains with are not pro snowboarders, they’re local guys and girls who have set their lives up around the mountains. They have a huge passion for the mountains and I see the sacrifices they’ve made to be there. Those are the people I’m hanging with right now, the kind of hardcore locals who are out every day exploring new lines in the mountains.
Molly: Would you say part of that is driven by competitiveness? There are scenes in your movies where it looks so daunting and exhausting.
Jeremy: I have always been kind of off in my own world as a professional snowboarder. Kind of like the black sheep of the industry. Even when I used to go heli-ing in Alaska, there would be no other snowboarders around. I’ve always kind of done my own thing—what makes me happy and motivated to get up, get out there, and give my best.
Molly: Recently, there has been a huge growth in splitboarding and backcountry access. It’s awesome, but also comes with a lot of concerns. What do you think about that?
Jeremy: I think its great to see more people in the mountains. I call it “ECO 101”. If you’re out splitboarding, then you really have a passion towards the mountains and it’s only going to grow with the more time you spend out there. Hopefully it’s going to lead you to want to protect the mountains. I don’t see the whole backcountry safety side of things as a bad thing. People definitely need to be smart about going in the mountains, but I find most people are very respectful of the mountains. It’s one of those things: you can make thousands of good decisions in the mountains, and one bad one will erase all those good decisions. That’s unfortunately what happens when people die in the mountains—which is horrible.
Molly: For someone who is interested in getting into the backcountry, what’s the best piece of advice you could give them?
Jeremy: Go with a guide. Find experienced people and ask a lot of questions. If you want to go in the backcountry for one week a year, get some buddies together and spend that week with a guide. If you want to get more serious than that, you can take an avalanche course and educate yourself.
Molly: If you could send someone on their dream trip, where you would send them?
Jeremy: There are so many incredible mountains in the world. Because I’m here in Seattle and looking around at the mountains—if you live in this area, you’re very fortunate. It’s one of the best places in the world to be a snowboarder. My brain is in the mountains right now and all I can think about is snowboarding here.
Molly: The economic climate is a little rocky at best, has been for a while, and you started a snowboard company. Is it like buying a house? Did you purposely start it when the market was down?
Jeremy: The two things I never wanted to do in my fifteen years of being a professional snowboarder was make my own movies—I’m on my third one—and start a snowboard company, which I also did right when I was making my first movie.
I just wasn’t getting the product I needed. At that point spiltboarding had become a huge part of my life and my snowboarding, and a lot of companies wanted nothing to do with it. I also had other boards, like new freeride shapes I wanted to make, and those companies didn’t want to hear it. I realized if I wanted these boards that I was dreaming up in my head, I needed to start my own company. I started with very low expectations based on selling a very small amount of snowboards. I was very calculated in starting it in the sense that I wasn’t going for broke.
It was, and still is, about making really good product. We’re a very disciplined and small company in the sense that there’s a very small marketing budget and things of that nature, but we are able to make amazing snowboards. And they’ve been consistently getting better. That’s been the most fun for me.
Molly: It seems like when you see a need, instead of waiting for someone else to fill that gap, you are willing to put yourself out there—like with Protect Our Winters and what you’re doing with that organization. For people who don’t know much about the organization, could you talk a little bit more about it?
Jeremy: I started Protect Our Winters in 2007 because in my lifetime I had seen the mountains change and I realized that winters were getting shorter right in front of my eyes. I felt that the community of snowboarders, skiers, and mountain enthusiasts could join together to help fight climate change. It was actually in 2005 was when I first thought I needed to do this. I was scared to—I barely graduated high school, I’m not an environmental expert, and I’m not an environmental saint, but I started it anyway. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
I started in 2007 and I knew for it to succeed that I would need to get other skiers and snowboarders to rally around it—and scientists. The thing I’m most excited about now is that I’m just a piece of this puzzle. I’m surrounded by this amazing group of people and we’re doing everything we can to try and slow climate change, which is a very difficult problem.
Molly: What are you most optimistic about, in terms of the potential?
Jeremy: A couple things: sustainable energy is working. It’s working faster than it was predicted. If you were a billionaire investing in energy, you would be crazy to invest in a coal power plant right now. Solar and wind look a heck of lot better than coal today. That’s a wonderful thing.
The other thing is the youth. We do this “hot planet, cool athlete” program where we go into schools and break down climate change to them and then show them these different solutions. The youth are ready to take on this challenge and that makes me optimistic.
Molly: When I was in school and faced these challenges, I don’t think we felt like there were as many outlets, or people in your position, that were preaching or promoting those messages. It was less cool to be talking about environmental issues.
Jeremy: We try to make it hip. We got some hip-hop in our presentation.
Molly: Maybe a little breakdancing?
Jeremy: Haha, yeah. We get caught up in the day-to-day thing, but if you look from where we were five years ago to today, a lot of great things have happened. We’re able to go to these kids, tell them the problem, and show them a ton of ways to solve it. It makes no sense to them that we know how to make a more environmentally friendly t-shirt. Like, why wouldn’t we ever not make an environmentally friendly t-shirt?
Molly: You’ve created some really cool companies and you’ve done a lot on the snowboarding side and with Protect Our Winters, but there always seems to be a bigger message to what you’re doing.
Jeremy: I’m very fortunate to have this great opportunity and I think a lot of people in my shoes would also be doing positive things. I don’t ever hold myself above anyone else. I just happen to have access to a bunch of people who are into what I’m doing with my snowboarding and I try and use that access for positive things.
Molly: I’m excited to see people doing things for the greater good.
Jeremy: One of the things we say with Protect Our Winters is to “use your lever”, whatever that may be. It might be something really small. It might be something really big.
Molly: What advice you could give someone looking to make a difference?
Jeremy: The one piece of advice I give kids when we go into schools is to follow your dreams. If you’re passionate about your daily life, then you’re going to do amazing things. You have to follow that passion. Life’s too short not to. That passion is going to get you through the bumps in the road. I think that if you’re living an impassioned life, you’re going to be a lot more fun to be around than some disappointed guy who hates his job and hates his life. You are probably not going to go on and do positive things in the world if your life is full of negativity.
Molly: What do you have planned for this winter? Anything fun?
Jeremy: Yes. Snowboarding haha. It’s funny, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and the addiction is stronger than ever. I am not picky about where or when I snowboard, as long as I’m in the mountains. I just got back from the Himalayas, and at this point, I’m looking to spend a lot of time in my home mountains.
Molly: How can you top the Himalayas?
Jeremy: You grab a pow surfer, go behind your house, go ride powder with your kids, and call it good.
Molly: That sounds like an amazing winter.
Jeremy: We’ll see. So far I’ve been riding on a six-inch base on this little north-facing patch of snow on the highest mountain behind my house. Just like a 200-foot patch, wiggling out little turns.
Molly: How old are your kids? Do they snowboard?
Jeremy: My kids are five and eight. One’s a snowboarder and the other is a skier.
Molly: Did you start them on skis?
Jeremy: We have always snowboarded in the backyard, and in Truckee, we have snow all the time. The ski program starts at three-and-a-half, and when you have a three-and-a-half-year-old at home you’re looking to get him outside. So that led to skiing at first. And at six, my daughter declared out of the blue that she was a snowboarder now, and she has not gotten off since.
Molly: It’s amazing to see little ones out there… they are the future, and yours certainly seem to be in good hands. Thank you for sharing your story and hopefully you have a great winter.
Jeremy: Thank you. You too!
Resources & Links:
- Jones Snowboards
- Protect Our Winters
- Jeremy Jones “Champion of Changes of Change Award” – Transworld Snowboarding