When Jeremy Jones spots a beastly, snow-covered peak in the remote backcountry, he sizes it up like a playground adversary, calculating in his brain the risk versus reward of accepting a direct challenge.
He’s usually game for the challenge. And then another.
“I just see these mountains that totally captivate me, and the really special ones, I can’t get them out of my head and I need to go take a close look at them,” Jones said. “And if things line up perfectly, I get to ride them. That whole process and the feeling of doing that continues to be one of the most rewarding things I do.”
A full-time Truckee resident since 1999, the 39-year-old Jones long ago established himself as one of the greatest big-mountain snowboarders in the sport’s history.
He gained another notch of respect with the 2010 release of Teton Gravity Research’s “Deeper,” in which he and a select group of snowboarding friends dedicated their efforts to splitboarding and human-powered travel in the backcountry.
Working with his brothers and Teton Gravity Research (TGR) co-founders Todd and Steve Jones, he followed with the 2012 sequel “Further,” in which he tackled some of the world’s most remote ranges, again using his own two legs as his primary means of uphill travel.
While the mountains he scaled and rode in both films were worthy of reverence, Jones said they pale in comparison to some of the technical, high-elevation peaks featured in the third installment of the trilogy, “Higher,” which is set to premier at Squaw Valley on Sept. 6.
“This film really has the biggest lines of my life — the most ambitious for sure,” Jones said Monday from DL Bliss State Park, where he was camped with his wife and two children after returning from a hike in the Desolation Wilderness. “In the previous films I kind of went with the approach of, ‘I’m going to go into this cirque and session a bunch of these lines,’ and it was kind of about sessioning smaller terrain. This film is about stepping up to these monster lines.”
In addition to the progressive big-mountain riding, “Higher” traces the evolution of Jones’ career, from his childhood romps on Cape Cod’s Jailhouse Hill to his more recent, daring endeavors to the challenges of balancing his family life with his thirst for adventure. He’s joined in the film by big-mountain pros Ryland Bell, Bryan Iguchi and Luca Pandolfi.
While the TGR crew set aside two seasons to film, Jones said most of the footage was shot between March 2013 and October during three major trips — to Teton National Park, Alaska and the Himalayas.
The Grand Teton and the Alaska Range provided challenging lines. The Himalayas were a whole nother animal, Jones said.
“That was a real humbling experience. I hadn’t really ever considered snowboarding there until a couple months before I went. I just kind of felt the pull of the Himalayas,” Jones said.
Unaware that he would soon be filming in the world’s tallest mountain range, Jones rode 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in Alaska, the tallest peak in North America, a couple months prior to the trip. He said the high-elevation training helped, but only so much.
“In the Himalayas, the difference was that I was trying to do really technical snowboarding, and it blew me away how much more difficult it was to snowboard down than to hike up,” said Jones, who topped out at more than 21,000 feet — the highest he’s ever ridden. “The hiking is painful for sure, but you’re able to just kind of slow things down and move slowly up the mountain. But snowboarding down, I had no idea how much of a cardio workout it would be.”
As for the element of danger, Jones said he’s as confident in his mountaineering and big-mountain riding ability as he’s ever been, mainly because of the wisdom he’s gained in the backcountry since completing the “Deeper, Further, Higher” trilogy.
“As I’m climbing these lines there’s a ton of anxiety, but I always set out knowing there are a ton of potential hazards and also with the mindset that there’s a good chance I’m going to have to turn around because it’s too dangerous,” he said. “So I’m only moving forward in the mountains if it’s feeling right. By the time I get to the top and strap in, that means I’ve climbed the line, I know the line really well, I know the snow really well, and there is not a ton of fear. The fear is more in picking the line.”
People often ask him what’s next. Jones said he has plans to film with fellow pro snowboarder and friend Travis Rice within the next year. He also hopes to venture into the High Sierra, his home range, after barely scratching the surface in recent seasons. For now, however, he’s simply enjoying spending time with his family — hiking and rock climbing in the Truckee/Tahoe area and taking occasional road trips to the ocean to surf.
And, of course, he’ll be at Squaw Valley’s KT Base Bar for the premier of “Higher.” Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through the TGR website, www.tetongravity.com. TGR will donate a dollar from each ticket sold to Protect Our Winters.
“I could premier the movie anywhere in the world, but I choose to do it in my hometown because these are the people who have had such an influence on me and my family,” Jones said. “It’s kind of my give-back to the community.”