The Gospel, According to Jeremy Jones
The polymath snowboarder has a new book about the art and philosophy of being in the mountains
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Jeremy Jones, big-line snowboarder, splitboarding sage, and fearless-seeming founder of Protect Our Winters (POW)—a partner of Outside’s Find Your Good fundraising platform—says he was scared to write a book. “I was kind of nervous, but nervousness and excitement go together in my head,” he says. “Whenever I say, ‘I’ve never done something like that before,’ and the thought of that thing freaks me out, I feel like I have to go toward it.”
Fear, risk, and knowing when to commit to something scary are all big themes in his new book, The Art of Shralpinism (October 2022, Mountaineers Books). It’s part philosophy, part backcountry protocol, part memoir about how he’s carved out his unique path as a climate activist, founder of Jones Snowboards, and pioneering athlete. Drawn from decades of journal entries and years of experience, the book is full of stories and tangible tips about how to live and travel well in the backcountry, which we could all use as we think about our personal futures on snow. We asked Jones a few of our burning questions after reading it.
OUTSIDE: What do you hope people get from this book, especially now as backcountry is the fastest growing segment of snow sports?
There’s something terrifying about writing a book about walking into the mountains, which is this incredibly dangerous thing. In the book we tried to dumb it down to basic fundamentals and principles, and broad arching themes. Which is a hard thing to do because snow is so complex.
I see this is a complement to avalanche courses. I don’t consider myself an expert at all, but I have a lot of time in the mountains, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I spill those in the book so hopefully people can learn from my mistakes. I think experience is something you get right after you need it.
I think experience is something you get right after you need it.
Speaking of experience, a lot of the book is about your mindset when you’re in serious situations.
The mental game is equally as critical as the tactical game. The tactical things are the ones you learn in an avalanche course and they’re totally part of my toolkit. But once you kind of have that toolkit the focus becomes “how do I get in the right mindset and figure out what tools to use?” I think that’s a constant challenge. The best of the world deal with it, and I think that’s why so many of the best of the world have close calls or die. It’s not because they don’t know how to dig a snow pit.
Which tools in your box do you use the most?
I have some basic protocols I can do that immediately eliminate some really serious risk. You never eliminate it all, but I love having those personal protocols that I can lean on. For instance, with Teton Gravity Research (the film company his brothers founded), we always talk about clean terrain. We ride big lines, but they have a runout, and you know what’s below you and around you, which helps keep you safe. You can break protocol, but you have to talk about it with your partners, and once you do, you know the stakes are way up. You know you’re crossing a line.
You mentioned language. Communication sounds like an important tool, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about framing. Like, at the trailhead if you say, “We’re going to start up toward Widowmaker,” instead of “We’re going to go ride the Widowmaker,” now everyone in the crew is like, “this is a maybe.” It changes expectations.
How did you learn all this stuff?
I’m such a product of the people I’ve been in the mountains with. I’ve done a lot of formal education, but a lot of it was informal mentorship, seeing someone farther down the road than me and watching and asking questions. At the root of it is this curiosity, which is crucial for all things in the mountains. As for [finding] mentors, the key is to not overreach. Find a person you admire who is a few steps higher on the rung of knowledge and then draft. You can move up the ladder, passing people along the way and finding people higher up to learn from, but if you start reaching for the top too soon, it can be overwhelming and you’re bound to fall.
You’ve been a real mentor to a lot of people in the world of climate change, which feels like it’s the biggest challenge for the future of snow sports. Any advice for how we can be good advocates and stewards?
I think you just have to start. Early on, I lost a lot of sleep over getting POW started. It took me a while to be vocal about the climate stuff because unfortunately climate is politicized, and anything political you start talking about brings conflict into your life. But we can’t avoid conflict if we’re going to avoid the most pressing issue of our generation. Adapt or Die is my new mantra.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.