While sitting in the crowd packed into the viewing corral at the base of Squaw Valley, watching the world premiere of Jeremy Jones' movie "Further" on Friday night, I had a flash of an old memory. It was about 10 years ago, and this normal-seeming guy in my office was showing a home video from his vacation. It was a pre-GoPro era, but the footage was from a helmet cam, and went like this:
The guy is standing next to a woman, and asks her if she's scared. She replies, "Yes. Always scared," and then proceeds to backflip off what I soon learn is a cliff with one of the longest vertical drops in the world. He of course, follows. Then they both whip out their arms and start to fly.
That was the day I learned about BASE jumping, and squirrel suits -- and that some people just live in a different sphere of reality than the rest of us. It also set the benchmark for the craziest thing I had ever seen, and the moment has held steady in the No. 1 position ever since.
I have been watching Jeremy Jones ride steep mountain peaks for more than 15 years. Most people who have watched snowboard movies half their lives have, too. But I have also seen him do it in person. I went on one of the (freezing cold) camping/riding trips for his first movie, "Deeper." (And watched him ride through binoculars, from the safety of base camp.) And I've followed him from above in a Brain Farm camera helicopter as he descended Alaska lines for Travis Rice's movie "That's It, That's All." And while every experience has been intense, this might be the first time I've ever been scared.
The snowboarding in "Further" is, of course, incredible. But what it takes to get to the top of one of those lines? For some reason it just finally hit me -- on Friday, after all of these years: What Jeremy Jones and company have to do to get to the place where they can even strap on a snowboard and ride is, hands down, really the craziest thing I have ever seen.
It seemed necessary to hunt the man down and talk to him about it.
Has the media frenzy surrounding "Further" been mellower than it was for "Deeper," or is there just less of a need to explain this idea that "we hike for our lines" now than there was two years ago?
Jeremy Jones: Well it's hard for me to see that because I feel like I'm doing a lot of interviews. But they don't all start with the question, "Do you hate helicopters?" now, which is really cool. I don't have to explain what I'm doing so much, because it's no longer this shocking deal. These days it's hard to find a movie that doesn't have hiked lines in it, and I see stories about hiking and splitboarding when I pick up magazines. We never saw that much before.
Do you think "Deeper" had a lot to do with that, or was the change already on its way?
The change was on its way, for sure. It had been building up for a long time. "Deeper" just came in and put a spark on some embers that had been smoldering and started a fire. And then it was just on.
So if "Deeper" was about getting away from flying machines, "Further" seems to have a lot to say about taking a break from the ones that connect us socially.
We didn't set out to make a movie about electronics being bad, but the importance of wilderness, of getting out into it, became kind of an undercurrent subtheme. We are really connected, and it's really important to disconnect sometimes, because the value you get is incredible. We all feel it, just getting out into the wild just a little bit. It doesn't need to be extreme.
Speaking of extreme, this movie is so gripping. The pacing seems a lot different than "Deeper," so much more intense.
Really? It's funny to hear that because there's less riding in "Further." We really take a lot of time to tell the story, which could lead to a long, drawn-out deal. What we found in the edit process, though, was when we were trying to trim it down, it just didn't work. But the more time we put into telling the story, the faster it went.
Also, "Deeper" was different because when we went into it, we had no funding. We shot with one camera. We had to learn to shoot these things on foot. With "Further" we were really evolved on a production side -- just simple things, like knowing how to keep a camera fog-free and charged up when you're camping in cold weather. It's a science.
Why do we do the things we do, these high-risk things? I struggle with that. But ... we can't live in padded safety bubbles. I have the utmost respect for the mountains, and it just feels like the place where I belong.”
We also staffed up in postproduction. We had a team of editors instead of one. And we spent a lot of time just watching the film, in its entirety. Usually when you're editing movies you get to the last segment and are completely fried. Then three weeks into the tour you're like, "Why didn't we cut that and move that part?" You have all this perspective that you didn't have right when you first finished. So this time, we watched it a bunch before the picture was locked, just to make sure it all felt right.
I love that you bring young guys like Lucas Debari into your projects, snowboarders who really feel like they could be the next "you," if that makes sense.
For sure. I look at the guys coming up right now, the Lucas, Ryland [Bell], [Alex] Yoder generation, and I think snowboarding's in good hands. Those guys are leading it back to the roots.
With this movie, all the riders who were in it came to me. Lucas, Haakon -- they asked to be a part of it. I actually brought Lucas into "Deeper" as a last-minute deal. He was in Alaska, in Haines, and he wanted to come with us but his sponsors just wanted him to work on his part in the other movie he was in. There was some drama. He was like, "This is the most important thing I can do. I want to come."
So he did, and then when we got back to Haines he shot his part for the other movie in three days. I think it was the opener. I just thought it was great, that he finally got his chance to film with a big company and wasn't afraid to walk away from it. Whereas a lot of the bigger-name guys wouldn't take that kind of chance.
Do you want to talk about risk, and the danger factor in doing what you do?
We ask that question in the movie: Why do we do the things we do, these high-risk things? I struggle with that. But we can't live in padded safety bubbles. I have the utmost respect for the mountains, and it just feels like the place where I belong. It doesn't feel like Evel Knievel stuff; what I'm doing feels really good.
And the reality is, it's not the 55-degree spine wall where the biggest risks are. Anyone going into the backcountry is going to be dealing with a similar level of risk. The closest call I've had in 15 years was a run I would have been on with my wife and friends. Going into the backcountry is serious, always.
What makes this different is that there is such little room for error hiking the lines. The part where Mitch [Tölderer] and Bibi [Pekarek] got swept off the mountain, if they were snowboarding it would have been a nonfactor, but it gets really serious when you're on foot. There's no room for error.
Bibi seemed to handle that like a champ, though.
You never want to get swept off your feet. We don't take that lightly at all. When something like that happens, it destroys you. It's so humbling. I don't want to make light of the situation. But we talk about worst-case scenarios before we go up there.
We were very concerned with that piece of snow that moved. We'd been there for three weeks, and hadn't seen any snow move on us -- but that's an example of how it's always on our minds. It's something we think about every time we get on the mountain.
No matter how random something seems when it happens, it's a mistake. Why it ends up not being a serious deal is because we prepared for it. That's proper terrain selection. Those risks that we take are in clean terrain, not over terrain traps. It's rare that something happens that we haven't already thought about and tried to plan for.
What number movie is this for you? Forty-two?
This is like 50-something.
Do you feel like you could quit making movies soon? Haven't you earned the right by this point to just be an ambassador?
[Laughs] I need a break from making movies, yeah. But with this format I am freeriding more than ever. With "Further" I did two monthlong trips a year -- my winter is eight months. That leaves me six months of camera-free snowboarding.
Pulling the trigger on a film is a long process, with funding, with telling a story that is compelling and is going to be an evolution. I really wanted to go to Japan and I wanted to go with the crew that went with me. That's what started "Further." So if I do "Higher" it will be because there is something that I really want to ride that I'm going to put my time into planning out -- something that I'm so passionate about that I can't not do it. I won't make the same movie twice.