An old saw goes: There are old mountaineers and there are bold mountaineers, but there are no old, bold mountaineers. Jeremy Jones can credibly claim to break that mold. A professional snowboarder from his teens who swapped the competitive circuit for the adrenaline-fueled, high-consequence world of big-mountain snowboarding, the 47-year-old has racked up decades of experience executing powder turns on steep faces where one misstep could prove fatal. He shares his accumulated wisdom in the new book “The Art of Shralpinism: Lessons from the Mountains,” which he will discuss at a Nov. 10 author event at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center.
“Shralpinism” is a portmanteau of “shredding” and “alpinism,” two pursuits Jones has combined with aplomb. Much of that effort has taken place in front of the camera, as a featured 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 films, started climate nonprofit Protect Our Winters and founded environmentally conscious manufacturer Jones Snowboards.
Jones spoke to The Seattle Times via phone from his home in Truckee, California.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I’ve kept a journal most of my life. I read every day. I like the writing process. I felt like I could bring a perspective to the mountain community that’s beyond the textbooks and help people interact with the mountains in a safer, more intimate manner.
Going into the mountains is nuanced, both tactically and mentally. One bad call can erase a lifetime of good calls.
When you make a film, you can’t dive that deep into how we got on top of that mountain and figured out how to ride it. What I enjoyed about the book is that I could peel back the layers: This is how I go about it and these are lessons learned.
There are journal entries from the night before I’m going to potentially ride a line way out of my comfort zone and right on the edge — zero-mistake snowboarding. I wrestle with the all-encompassing, take-over-your-body fear from these types of decisions.
Is the industry moving beyond “ski porn” films of endless powder and more willing to address risk and process?
There’s room for that style of film. I certainly have tried to bring that into “Deeper,” “Further” and “Higher.” Then you do have that party ski film in the sense of turn up the volume, and let’s just see some people rip. There’s room for both.
What I try to convey is that there is a time when the mountains are ready for you. My new favorite line is: If it’s not a screaming yes, it’s a no. We’re not fabricating the risks in the mountains. We see the best of the best die every year.
Winter is about to be in full swing, so why do you save your most ambitious snowboarding for the spring?
The early season and midwinter is about stacking days and getting strong. Come spring, you’re generally dealing with a much simpler snowpack. Not to say it’s safe, but it’s less complex. What I am always gearing up for is high pressure from mid-March through May. That’s where the biggest, best lines of my life have gone down.
As ski resorts become more expensive and crowded, an increasing number of people are going straight to the backcountry. Why should aspiring shralpinists spend more time inbounds at resorts?
If you’ve never been on snow, or very little, the resort gives you more time. It’s all about stacking vert [skiing as many vertical feet as possible]. There are no shortcuts. My thing was to ride more than anyone else in the world and you’ll get to the upper 96th percentile with just a basic level of skill.
For me, the resort is much more about those obscure, hardpacked days. I don’t have an appetite for the hyped-out powder days. But I certainly like getting off-piste, riding marginal snow run after run, and finding the steep, bumpy, icy stuff. So often the case when you are backcountry skiing, you’re riding every type of conditions thrown at you and so to have the reps from the resort is awesome.
I’ll tell my kids: This is the best ice we’ve seen in three years, we’ve got to get to the mountain and take advantage of this proper East Coast ice [Jones learned to ski in New England, famous for its icy conditions].
What advice do you have for skiing and snowboarding parents hoping to generate stoke in their kids?
Go slow. There’s a danger in being too forceful and turning them off the sport. That’s the biggest mistake. Kids getting pulled out of school early in first grade, and then by fifth grade, they’re [burned out].
Don’t try to make your kid into 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 within that kid.
The whole point is fun: being out in nature, with your friends, with your family. At the end of the day, none of that has to do with how rad you are as a 10-year-old.
Cookies and candy don’t hurt as well. We always had a rule: If you take three runs, you get a cookie.
How do you keep progressing in the sport at this stage in your career?
You’re only as good as your last year. I always went into winter [with the attitude] that nobody cares you did something awesome three years ago. Strictly in terms of being a pro skier or pro snowboarder, that is the mentality that you have to have. If I’m in front of a camera, I’m taking that spot from someone else, so I better be evolving, or get out of the way and let the next person come up.
Progression is finding yourself in the mountains at a spot you couldn’t have gotten to a moment sooner because you were lacking the knowledge to be there. I continue to get to that space in the mountains. I am shifting into this different phase in my snowboarding where I’ve figured out how to be self-sufficient in the mountains for days on end and move efficiently through the mountains to get into these deep sections of these ranges.
My goal has always been dream lines: big, clean, rippable lines in good snow. Those have never been the highest peaks and ranges, they’re the ones that are tucked behind the biggest peak. With my understanding of snow and weather, I’m only getting better and better at that type of snowboarding.
How has injury factored into your career and how did you move forward?
I developed a back injury and by 23 I was really struggling. There was a point where 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, it’s probably the whole reason I am still snowboarding today. I laugh because my journal through my 20s go: “Poor me, I just want to snowboard.”
Never waste an injury — become an expert on it. We all get injured. It’s how you deal with your injuries that matters.
How do you avoid climate pessimism?
My optimism comes from the fact that we have the solutions and they create tons of jobs. We’re seeing that with the Inflation Reduction Act and the $28 billion in clean-tech manufacturing since that bill was passed. Seeing the biggest climate bill passed gives me hope that this is the first of many steps toward a clean energy transition.
What lessons does your book offer for the reader who doesn’t backcountry ski, 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 person whose life is all about the mountains. But it’s clear that lessons from the mountains are applicable to other facets of life, like “compounding returns.” I have a four-minute morning [stretch and fitness] routine. That done one day, one month means nothing. Over four years, that’s changed my life. I read 20 pages every night. A little bit every day goes a long way. I touch on that in all facets of my life.