TAHOE/TRUCKEE - He's a big mountain freeriding pioneer. One of the top snowboarders in the world, he's powered his career to new levels without the use of helicopters or snowmobiles in some of the gnarliest terrain on earth. And come Jan. 16, Jeremy Jones might also become National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year.
For the past eight years, National Geographic has picked a cadre of adventurers to vie for the exclusive title of People's Choice Adventurer of the Year. The company selects contestants based on their achievements in exploration, conservation, humanitarianism and adventure sports.
Jones, 37, joins adventure innovators like supersonic BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner, paraplegic skier Josh Dueck and Austrian climber David Lama this year, according to National Geographic.
"I was very honored. I grew up with the magazine, my family always had a subscription. It was really my first window into adventure," Jones said.
The Truckee-based snowboarder recently finished work on his latest Teton Gravity Research film, "Further." Jones and his crew explored mountain ranges in Japan, Austria, Norway and Alaska on splitboards - a backcountry snowboard that splits into two ski-like parts that can be used to climb slopes with skins.
Human-powered exploration allows athletes and film crews to access ground that would be off limits to snowmobiles, but it also means enduring pain-inducing ascents and harsh conditions in remote terrain, Markleeville-based cinematographer Chris Edmands said.
It's not easy to find a film crew who will lug pounds of equipment through the backcountry for days or weeks at a time, but Edmands and his Leeward Cinema team relished the adventure.
"It's a challenge. My whole life I've gotten bored really quickly with things I've done. Maybe they're just too easy," Edmands said. "I've always preferred to do things the more difficult way, but I just enjoy the simplicity of hiking around and being 100 percent self-reliant. It's fun to get scared and it's fun to push yourself."
Edmands met Jones in 2007 when the cinematographer was shooting his human-powered snowboard film, "My Own Two Feet." Edmands wanted to abandon chairlifts, helicopters and snowmobiles to make a movie that featured professional athletes beyond the confines of traditional snowboard projects.
The next year, Edmands and Jones partnered for the film, "Deeper," the first installment in the Teton Gravity Research-produced Jeremy Jones trilogy - "Deeper," "Further" and "Higher." The movie was on a much grander scale than "My Own Two Feet," but human-powered exploration remained the core philosophy, Edmands said.
Jones hasn't limited that philosophy to his snowboarding endeavors. He founded the environmental-protection nonprofit Protect Our Winters in 2007 because he'd witnessed firsthand the impact of climate change on mountain ranges around the world and he wanted to mobilize the winter sports community.
"I'd seen definite change in the mountains and I felt that we really needed to step up our efforts to protect them from climate change," Jones said.
Riding remote terrain without the aid of machines aligned closely with those efforts, and Jones and Edmands once again hit the slopes last winter to shoot "Further."
"I'd seen him snowboard in videos for years, but working with him, he's an incredible athlete and it's really easy to film him. There aren't many instances where you have to reshoot because he messes up," Edmands said.
The crew camped on the Bagley Icefield in Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias for 25 days in April to film scenes for the upcoming movie. Meyers resident Canyon Florey, who wore multiple hats during the expedition - including base camp manager, guide, cook and filmer - said when he first got out of the plane that dropped the crew off, he questioned whether there was anything he could actually snowboard.
"They were the gnarliest mountains I've ever been in. Filming was hard work out there. You're putting yourself in very precarious spots," Florey said. "But considering that we were in some of the heaviest terrain in the world, everything went just fine."
Florey used a lightweight camera crane he'd developed to capture shots of Jones ripping in his element. Jones takes very calculated risks when he rides a big mountain line, and the shots sometimes mask the thought that goes into a scene, Florey said.
"He's not just opening it up and dropping in blind. He's sat there and he's scoped it out, and he'll sit in his tent at night and analyze it," Florey said. "That guy is incredibly motivated and I really appreciate his outlook on everything. He's very goal-oriented."
Edmands said they have not started laying down definitive plans for the making of the last movie, "Higher." Jones said he'd still like to make the final film in the series, but his current plans leave him closer to home.
"My immediate goal is to get out and spend a bunch of time in the Sierra - my home," Jones said. "The Sierra continue to blow me away, and it's why I've continued to live in Truckee when I could live anywhere in the world. I didn't get my full Sierra fix last year."