Not many people would compare a line down the Grand Teton to a snow-covered Alaskan face. Then again, Jeremy Jones isn’t your average snowboarder.
The professional rider dropped in on the jagged peak in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo., on March 18 to start filming for Teton Gravity Research’s “Higher,” the final film in a three-part snowboarding odyssey. Days before the descent, a winter storm deposited 27 inches of fresh powder on the slope.
“It’s really surreal. I’ve lived in Jackson, I’ve looked up at the Grand Teton, so to stand on the top of that peak was really unbelievable. And I never imagined riding it in deep powder,” Jones said Thursday. “It was really hard to wrap my head around. Standing at the top I asked myself, ‘Am I really going to bomb this right now?’”
The answer was a gutsy “yes” that took Jones straight down the Otterbody face. For those of you unfamiliar with the Grand’s Otterbody, it’s a high snowfield that hangs above hundreds of feet of exposure. Most of the time the peak’s eastern face looks like a jagged, vertical cliff with a few paltry patches of snow gripping the rock.
Steve Jones —Teton Gravity Research co-founder, “Higher” co-director and Jeremy Jones’ older brother — described the area as a “no fall zone.” For a rider to make a successful descent, all the conditions have to come together.
“We’ve tried to feature the Tetons in our last two films, but there’s a reason we didn’t. Everything has to align. It’s tricky and it hasn’t been for lack of effort. If (the snow) hadn’t come in exactly right, we never would have been able to pull it off” Jones said.
Even with the right recipe of conditions, riding the Grand is no cakewalk. The route Jeremy Jones, fellow snowboarder Brian Iguchi and mountain guides Zahan Billimoria and Brendan O’Neill descended included a 100-foot and a 400-foot rappel. The team was on the line for three hours, a “long time to be in no man’s land,” Jones said.
After Jones, Iguchi and Billimoria had made the initial rappel onto the face, O’Neill skied toward them, triggering a large amount of slough according to a Teton Gravity Research blog post. For the ground production team, which included Jones’ brother Steve, it looked like the slide had swept the trio off the mountain.
“It was a very intense moment. It’s so emotional. But I know Jer’s level and I’ve been in exposed situations like that myself. While the thought is always there, ‘What if something goes dramatically wrong?’, I also thought that they were probably more tucked in than they looked,” Steve Jones said.
It turned out the riders were sheltered from the worst of the slough, and the snow was light enough to barrel right over their heads without endangering them. Situations like that aren’t unexpected when you’re riding one of the heaviest lines in the world, Jeremy Jones said.
After a 12-hour day in the mountains on March 18, the crew wrapped up shooting for the first segment of “Higher.” Steve Jones said they’ll keep filming throughout next winter with plans to release the movie in September 2014. It will complete the Jeremy Jones trilogy that includes “Deeper” and “Further.”
“It’s really, really exciting. A milestone achievement for TGR … It was a really emotional day. We’ve both had monumental days throughout our careers and we looked at each other that day and thought, ‘What a great way to start ‘Higher.’” Steve Jones said.
Not only did the team ride a long-sought-after line, they used a cutting-edge camera platform for the first time in the series’ history. Teton Gravity Research is the only company to use what it called in a press release the world’s most advanced gyro-stabilization camera platform.
Next stop — Valdez, Alaska. The Sierra Nevada might even make an appearance, according to Jeremy Jones. The Truckee resident said he rode Squaw Valley Wednesday and “had a blast.” Rain at lake level at this time of year means snow at higher elevations and Jones said he’s getting ready for an amazing spring session in the high Sierra this spring. Like the Tetons, those peaks have eluded him for the trilogy, Jones said.
But with flexibility and a little luck, that shoot might just come together. After all, the odds were against the “Higher” crew on the Grand. Ninety-five percent of the time, the line is a no-go, Jones said. The route hasn’t been skiable since he dropped in on the Otterbody three weeks ago.
“The Tetons have meant a lot to myself and my brother. To ride the Grand and document it, and have it kick off this film, was really amazing. It could take 10 years for all those stars to align again,” he said.