Secrets Of The Alpinist – Transworld Snowboarding

Originally published in Transworld Snowboarding Magazine – Dec 2010 and Transworld Snowboarding Japan – March 2011.

Words and Photos By Seth Lightcap

It all started with just a few words, a press release sent without pics…

“Teton Gravity Research is proud to announce a partnership with eight-time TWS Rider Poll Big Mountain Snowboarder of the Year…”

But what those pivotal words have become is more like a parade of fire trucks answering a five-alarm blaze at your neighbor’s house. Jeremy Jones’ signature freeride snowboard project, DEEPER, has sounded a two-year rally cry louder than the mid-dinner smoke alarm you need a ladder to reach. How else can you describe a shred movie with no fewer than 15 legit teaser videos, more jaw dropping blog content than TMZ and a peripheral environmental message that was personally delivered to the U.S. Congress?

If you’ve caught even one of the ‘Deeper Unplugged’ videos or Jones’ ‘Live From The Spine Wall’ blog posts you know full well why the legendary freerider was so eager to share and dedicated to updating us as the project unfolded. The movie is unprecedented in both scope and form. The fact that the film is the first all-freeride flick to feature strictly splitboard-access lines is one thing. But toss in the crazy cast of characters and ridiculous shooting locations and you have a recipe for something that snowboarding has never seen. Jeremy and his crew went, quite literally, deeper.

The world of snowboarding has followed along as the project progressed, from one corner of the globe to another, from one narrow chute to the next massive exposure, and now the time has finally come. Read on for a rundown of pretty much the whole freakin’ movie start to finish. The trips, riders and stories don’t lie.

(L-R) Jeremy Jones climbs the ‘Psycho Pinner in the High Sierra’ / Jones drops into a Tahoe waterfall

California Dreamin’
Having felt the Sierra splitboard stoke the previous winter filming for Chris Edmands’ ‘My Own Two Feet’, it was only natural for Jones to start the DEEPER project right where they had left off. But this was no MOTF part deux, as Edmands explains it, the expectations were completely different.

“My Own Two Feet was pretty light hearted so dropping into DEEPER was a bit intimidating,” remembers Chris. “Working with Jones and TGR I knew the only acceptable outcome was to bring back ultra-heavy shots.”

Jones obviously felt the same way so the early DEEPER trips in the Sierra focused on finding terrain and snow conditions that showed off his world-class “backyard”. Early trips that went down included a High Sierra mission with Ryland Bell to the infamous ‘Psycho Pinner’ line and a few overnight trips to secret fluted faces and pow stashes around North Tahoe. While not a lot of these early trips made the final edit, these expeditions provided critical practice for perfecting the art of filming on foot. Not to mention it gave everyone involved a taste of the production schedule that would soon become the norm on DEEPER days – dawn to dusk with a whole lotta splitboarding in between. Jones noted this as a vital step in his learning curve.

“Picking up the splitboard in California I realized that I could go out all day, dark to dark, and still feel really good,” said Jones. “If I had been bootpacking 12 hours a day I would have been hammered. That first year of filming I had days in the mountains that were twice as long as any I had ever had before.”

Lucas Debari, first hit front 3 – Fairweather Range, Alaska.

Mandatory Alaska
The spring of 2009 Jones took a little time off to compete and then went straight into planning for an April trip to Alaska. The plan was to ski-plane into a basecamp outside the heli-boundary in Haines and ride out the inevitable storms and sunshine for a month of filming in the Fairweather Range. The reality of pulling off such a trip left Jones a bit worried, especially since he had convinced the likes of Travis Rice, Johan Olaffson, Tom Burt, Jonaven Moore and Ryland Bell to accompany him.

“There was a lot of anxiety going into the first Alaska trip because 90% of the success I’ve had in snowboarding has gone down in AK,” said Jones. “This trip really needed to work, and in order for it to work, we really needed to find the right basecamp.”

Luck was on Jones side however. He found a zone on an early recon flight that looked to hold all the elements necessary for success – an amazing progression of terrain and climbable lines. The zone ended up being all that and more as the riders found a wicked groove shredding the playful and steep walls surrounding camp. When they could see the terrain that is. The crew battled mental madness and resorted to food rationing during a ten day storm early in the trip. When the sun finally resurfaced, Mr. Rice wasted no time getting after it and sent a monster crevasse gap jump that is undoubtedly one of Deeper’s hammers. Jones continued his evolution riding a 65-degree spine wall that he dubbed ‘Touch and Go Wall’ because he nearly turned around every five feet while climbing up the ridiculously steep face.

Tom Burt and Chris Edmands climb above base camp – Fairweather Range, Alaska

Redefining Heavy in Cham
After a month of winter camping on an Alaskan glacier you might think Jones would have wrapped up production for the season, but oh no. Jones was still amping and jumped at an invitation from Xavier Delerue to come shred in Chamonix. Upon launching into the Alps, Jones and Delerue set their sights on a few classic extreme lines including the Tour Ronde and the Swiss Face. The exposure and danger of the routes was not lost on Jones as he followed Delerue over man eating bergschrunds and up vertical ice walls that became mandatory rappels on the way down.

“That trip to Chamonix was the most intense snowboarding I had ever done,” remarked Jones. “I have never seen mountains move so much…ice coming down, holes opening up…every day I’d return home safely I felt like this huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

Despite the spooky terrain, Jones and Delerue eyed one of the biggest and most dangerous lines in the Alps for their final mission – the Benedetti Couloir on Mount Blanc, a line that has seen one ski descent but never been snowboarded. Just getting to the base of the route on the south side of the Mount Blanc Massif required miles of skiing across crevasse fields, a stretch of mixed climbing along a knife edge ridge and a rappel down into a hut perched precariously on the side of cliff. The approach to the route went well for the group but mid-way through climbing up the face, Delerue, Jones and their guide almost got swept off the mountain by rock fall. Sensing that the dangers would only get worse with the heat of the day, they decided to turn tail and descend to safety. Erring on the side of caution proved to be a wise decision as the day had already turned tragic in the Alps. Renowned French alpinist Karine Ruby died in a crevasse fall just around the corner from the DEEPER crew at the same time they backed off.

Blower day splitboarding in the Tahoe backcountry.

Surprise! Tahoe Cold Smoke
Rolling into the second year of filming there were still a few glaring holes in the DEEPER shot list. A wicked storm segment was one of them. Jones didn’t necessarily have a location in mind for storm shooting, but he was hell bent on featuring nothing less than the most billowing and
mind numbing pow shots ever. Much to his surprise the storm stars aligned a lot closer to home than he had imagined.

“We had always wanted to do a storm segment but from all our talks never did I think we were going to film it in Tahoe,” snapped Jones. “I had never seen that much cold, stable snow in the Sierra. I remember digging pits with five feet of fresh, but perfectly stable snow. We were blessed with the perfect storm.”

As it’s titled in the movie, “Cali Deep Week” was indeed an epic week to be in California last winter. Forrest Shearer was sure stoked he drove in from Utah to join Bell and Jones for the frothing fun.

“I didn’t know Tahoe could get that bottomless,” shot off Shearer. “It was like surfing in an ocean of powder…bobbing in and out of engulfing waves.”

The trio lapped up chest deep pillow lines on Donner Pass and chased each other around trying to catch crazy POV face shot angles. The red-lined fun meter shows full well in the flick as the boys do nothing but porpoise through blower pow for a solid five minutes. Extrapolate those five minutes of winning shots to reality and you’ll begin to understand the sickness of waking up to a couple feet of fresh every day for five days.

(L-R) Jeremy Jones chalks up another first descent in Tahoe / Base camp in the Tahoe backcountry.

Cali Crusher
Maybe six days after “Deep Week” fizzle fried, Old Man Winter came pounding again, but this go it was a Tahoe tempest that came and went with a quickness. The prospect of killer snow and sunny skies was enough to tempt Josh Dirksen to drop south and join the Deeper crew in the Sierra.

Soon after Dirka arrived, Jones made the decision to push the crew out an unknown zone that was twice as far back as any zone we had previously visited. With the big push came a big reward however. The objective was a steep virgin face guarded by a meaty mandatory cliff air that ran alongside the base of the wall. Hyper fast sluff kept the riders on their toes but Jones, Bell and Dirksen all nailed money lines down the face. Several were most likely first descents. The trip reflected a prime example of the challenge of filming deep in the backcountry for Ryland Bell.

“It was go, go, go until you don’t think you can go anymore…but we’d go a little more anyway,” said Bell. “And then, standing at the top of your line, you realize…we spent two days to get here but if I blow one turn this shot isn’t making the movie.”

Jeremy Jones, Lucas Debari, Josh Dirksen and Ryland Bell burrow up a wall in the Spine Institute – Fairweather Range, Alaska

AK Ender of all Enders
As the clock struck April, all eyes turned back to Alaska. This second AK trip was to be the final Deeper mission and a similar outing to the first AK expedition aside from location and riders. The adventure would begin again at Drake Olson’s ski-plane hangar in Haines, but Jones planned to pick a base camp even further out than the previous year. The athletes Jones brought along for the final ride were Xavier Delerue, Josh Dirksen, Ryland Bell, Lucas Debari and Tom Burt, who returned as lead guide.

Jones kept his word and found a base camp in the heart of Glacier Bay National Park nearly 60 miles outside Haines. The zone was a freeride candy store filled with massive spine walls and towering couloirs. Few things could have gone better upon arriving at base camp as the snow conditions were all-time and the sun beamed for more days than not. The stellar weather window and the stable snowpack allowed for steady terrain progression leading Jones to name the zone ‘The Spine Insititute’. Over two bluebird stretches, the riders slayed progressively steeper lines on faces tagged as Kindergarten, Middle School, the Free-fall Wall, the Impossible Wall and the Wall of Walls.

Jeremy Jones negotiates man-eating spines riding the ‘Free Fall’ wall.

“The mountains gave it up to us,” said Jones reflecting on the trip’s success. “That’s where we got really lucky, the most ideal weather and snow conditions hit at the exact moment we were peaking.”

The last two days of the 25-day mission were especially epic as Delerue, Jones and Bell knocked off huge spine lines on the same morning that they packed up and moved camp to yet another coveted spine wall nicknamed Corrugated. A storm was fast approaching so the crew rallied one more dawn patrol and scored an unbelievable last round of lines before hightailing back to Haines.

Chris Edmands, Tero Repo, Xavier Delerue and Tom Burt celebrate Jeremy Jones’ down-day discovery -  a lost case of MGD.

Digesting DEEPER
Those trips sound pretty damn tasty eh? When the plot includes heavys like Jones, Rice and Delerue dug in on a glacier ripping off wild lines, it seems surreal – almost unreal. Ryland Bell’s DEEPER aftertaste definitely echoed that.

“I spent the last two years in the mountains with the words ‘Holy Sh!t’ written on my face,” said Bell about riding with Jones and the posse.

Guaranteed those two words will be on your tongue too when you see Jones’ struggle to change edges above a monster cliff in Chamonix. Yeah, even Jones learned a ton making DEEPER. After having held his line in 40+ previous movies, breaking this new waist deep trail was quite the undertaking for the company owner, non-profit founder and father of two. But in due time, he’s already looking at his next line, as usual.

“I’m still digesting DEEPER right now but I feel like I’m really at a level with my snowboarding that I’ve never been at before,” said Jones. “The world’s mountains have really opened up to me because I’ve learned how to unlock these un-ridden zones. I’m still excited to explore and ride new stuff so with the right support, making another movie is definitely not out of the question.”

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