In a sport that’s notoriously fickle towards its professionals, Jeremy Jones stands out as a true icon and original. He’s not the dude that wins X Games and Olympics, so the wider public may not have heard of him. But within snowboarding culture, his name is synonymous with standard-breaking video parts, often the final part for the most notable movie of the season— the sports’ equivalent of a top 40 hit, a New York Times best seller or an Oscar. For decades, Jones’ video segments have challenged what was thought possible to achieve on a snowboard, as the Utah native constantly pioneered tricks and terrain that other riders would emulate for years and generations to come.
In 2017, Jones and group of 10 others were caught in a Utah backcountry avalanche. No one was killed, but Jones broke both his legs in multiple places. True to form, Jones used the accident and experience of recovery as a platform for growth, and has put was he learned from that day, and over the course of his storied career, into a presentation series called “What Doesn’t Kill You… Doesn’t Kill You.” Darn Tough sat down with Jones to talk about what it takes to defy the impossible, again and again, and what it’s been like to share his story of coming out alive on the other side.
DT: You’ve been around, and part of, the snowboard world, in one of its major meccas, now for decades. For people that just know snowboarding from the X Games and Olympics, can you describe the sport and culture was like when you first started riding? From your perspective, how has the sport and culture progressed throughout your career?
Jeremy Jones: I suppose snowboarding’s gone all the way from being viewed as wasted effort to in fact becoming a “sport.” I have been with it in a very literal sense from the hatred and disrespect snowboarding was shown to now the massive respect shown to a high-level snowboarding “Athlete.” That progression in the past 25 years has been unimaginable really. Big money, corporations, mainstream television, the Olympics, and more… it’s just a little wild to think about how lots of people have made livings off of snowboarding for 30, and for a very few, 40 years now. I have had my eyes on this for 30 years, I have seen and been heavily involved in the better part of snowboarding’s timeline of existing, and that’s crazy. It’s changed lots.
What have been the biggest changes in how you value riding itself over the span of your career?
I went through the phases of riding so much for “work” that when I was home I wouldn’t ride really, riding for fun just sounded exhausting. That lasted for about four years during my 23 years of filming hard as a Pro. Not that bad, but it felt awful— I really didn’t like hating to ride. I’m not sure what changed, but one day I started to feel it again and that original love started to flow back through and I’ve loved it more and more every time I ride since those years. Since I’ve been hurt the past two and a half years and haven’t got the days in I would have like, I’m really missing it now, haha!
Some athletes measure accomplishment in trophies, miles or summits. For your aspect of snowboarding, it’s the video part. Can you explain to folks who don’t follow this part of the sport what the significance of a video part is?
The significance of a video part unfortunately might be something of a dated concept. It was the standard back in the earlier days, and snowboarding culture was truly created, influenced and progressed through videos. So that was my platform for what I wanted to do. I always stuck with it and even still have a focus and an unbreakable dedication to my video projects.
What about how creativity, progression and collaboration factor in?
Video parts were my outlet of creativity, my “story of the season” basically. I would plan them, write down trick lists and list certain “Cut Away” clips I would need to go from one trick to the next. I had a massive amount of help understanding this through the filmers I would work with, they were so good at visualizing, I was always inspired by them. I liked setting it up as a competition with myself, so each year I would decide what would make this next video part better for me, and challenge me in the process. Then I would zero out the timeline and start a new one. I love that process!
How many video parts have you filmed at this point? It seems staggering… Can you talk about the significance of having not just one or a few top shelf parts, but an ongoing output of “best ever” video parts?
Ha, yeah thanks. I don’t know the exact number. I know, but I didn’t miss filming for a “major” video part for 23 years. I dropped a part every year, that’s probably my favorite “claim” haha! I’m somewhere around 27-28 video parts though. That’s not including remix parts and cameos and such.
At a certain point, you started pioneering urban riding of a scale and sense of physics that hadn’t been done before. Some of those setups you filmed literally just hadn’t been imagined, it seemed like. How did you go about calculating the logistics, the physics and the risks of doing something that a lot of people hadn’t thought to be even possible?
That’s just having “feel” out in the field. That’s where we played, worked and “trained”— we were in the streets every second we could be. The comfort you start to feel in the environment is a huge factor, that alone takes away a massive amount of guessing, it’s hard to explain though, because it’s a “I just know” type of answer. The uncertainties that still poke through, become a “best guess,” and trial by fire so to speak.
On the flip side, how rewarding was it like to achieve some of those never-been-dones? And then to see other riders go out and do the same thing, with you having essentially opened up a new territory of riding?
I’ve only now started to unpack what that feels like for me. In those moments, I was just doing my thing with my crew, they were doing their thing. We were so focused that, I swear I didn’t see the ripples I made for 12-15 years. I still can’t believe it at times when people or other pros tell me the impact I had on them and how we changed this or that in snowboarding. I trip out on it.
How did your sense of risk management change when you got married? What about when you had kids?
I just backed off my carelessness really. I tried to get real tight and intimate with what that barrier was, and I didn’t want to cross it anymore. Pro snowboarding is a risky occupation, so to keep living and providing from that space, I created a few new boundary lines. I know that can seem like a debatable line and easy to cross. But it’s not— only I know where my control stops and what it feels like to lose control and to have a grip of adrenaline when your friends are amped up to jump over a canyon.
What was the first major injury you had after you had kids, and did having a family in the mix make you think about your approach to riding and risk?
I can’t even remember. None with such an impact that it changed my perspective. Until the avalanche a couple years ago— that shook our/my world up for sure.
I know you were into mountain biking before this double leg injury. How did you get hooked on it, and how did you end up taking it to a higher level— didn’t I see a video of you jumping over a truck at some point?
Yeah, that was a Road gap in Virgin Utah, easier than it looked though. Haha, it’s all in the optics. My wife got me into Mtn Biking. Then I fluked into a deal and Specialized flowed me a bike and I couldn’t stop after that. I love it! Going fast through the trees, having fun jibbing around, slashing little side hits. It’s not as painful as skateboarding, so it became a really great filler for that.
How is the recovery from that brutal double leg break going? What’s the rehab been like?
My recovery has been two and a half years so far. Long and slow, since some fractures opened back up in my right leg, and due to the messy breaks, it has taken quite some time to mend. The pain has been pretty intense and has kept me from snowboarding due to the boots and the bindings putting such a load on those fractures, even though I have rods to stabilize my legs. The rehab has been hot and cold. Some really great runs of everything clicking along and then the re-fractures really have slowed me down. I had to do another bone graph and get a few screws removed and now I am hopefully in the final stretch of that being cleared, so that I can give it a “100%”.
How has cross fit and strength training fit in? Were you into that prior to this injury?
Yeah, I have been into seasonal training pretty heavy since 2006 or so. I had always worked on a few things physically and mentally to stay in some sort of shape through the winter months but in ‘06 I started getting in the actual gym and taking it a bit more serious. Cross fit was never really my thing as that seems to be a sport all its own. Since I had a “sport” already, I was more about finding patterns in the movements that would transfer to snowboarding and skateboarding and focus more on those and tweak programming to support my “sport” more.
The name of your presentation is a riff on the “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” saying. You’re taking it in a different direction here. What’s missing, or what weren’t you satisfied with, in that old saying that you wanted to update?
I have just never ever in my life simply been “made stronger” from something that didn’t kill me, or an act on myself that did damage. I feel like the phrase takes away the accountability of the participant. Like, “Yeah, I didn’t die, now I get to be stronger because of that?” Not really, you didn’t die that’s great, but are you shook up? So that’s what you are, Not Dead, but totally hammered— and now it’s time to get to work. See what I mean? The get stronger part is not a “gimmie.” Because “What doesn’t kill you, just doesn’t kill you.” But you are for sure not out of the woods until you actually are, and that itself could be what kills you. Make sense?
What was the inspiration for “What Doesn’t Kill You Doesn’t Kill You”? The 2017 avalanche in particular? How did you decide to boil it all down to something you could present publicly?
For sure WDKYDKY spawned from the avalanche. As I started to entertain the idea of what this story could look like as a presentation, I knew it had potential to take on a few angles. As I started to pick up on similar veins throughout my career, I saw some great story elements that would make the presentation entertaining, as well as support delivering some of the key “take away” topics I felt like were so powerful in the process of “saving the day,” as far as our incident went. Boiling it down took some time for sure, since there are lots of stories over 20 years that could be used, but again, finding the veins that can link things up unquestionably and support those points are ultimately why I would decide to use one story over another.
Were there any other speakers or people whose stories, and ways of sharing them motivated/inspired you?
Really, I have never been inspired by a “keynote,” so it was never really my interest to go check one out. I do have a good friend that speaks often, so he was very inspirational in helping me develop this, as a person and what he has gone through professionally and personally, and also his knowledge with speaking itself. I still don’t look at speakers’ presentations much though. I really wanted to build it out my way, and how I felt like it should look. I used the same formula that I used to create a video part for snowboarding. Highs and Lows, a good story line, some variety in material, and presenting it all as authentically as possible. I feel like I ended up with a nice balance of “My Way” and also supporting the “Its always done this way” formula as well.
Can you walk us through each of the “Layers” of your presentation, and where they connect to the potential experience of others?
The Layers are a few bullets that I have always felt are very important in simply surviving and navigating the landscape of the world…
Instincts: I feel like we tend to suppress more than we should, and I feel strongly that we should focus to develop and listen closely to our instincts and use them, hone them, follow them. It would keep us all much more honest and effective in our lives.
Leadership: I wanted to highlight this one as a cautionary “Title” to hold onto. Leaders tend to be the leader in all situations, they are used to it, people usually respond to them and a leader loves the control. I point out how the best leaders, from my experience, are in the trenches as much or more than their soldiers, leading the way quite literally, also maintaining such humility that they are able to step down and let another lead when their box tips.
Adapt: Little more obvious reasoning for this one, and I just wanted to point out the importance of being willing to roll with the punches and even more so, knowing that the situation will most likely change and that adapting is an inevitable part of survival on all platforms.
Resilience: Time under Tension. Spend some time here, be ready to withstand hours and hours loaded down with your work or your life issues— it will happen, it is unavoidable. I describe in the presentation how I built out my programming for training my Resilience. So, I won’t totally give that away here, you’ll have to check it out in person some time! Essentially though, it’s TIME UNDER TENSION that builds out that iron will and resilience.
One of the crucial parts of all this is that idea of resilience… How do you see this differing from say, “recovering” or “rebounding”?
Bouncing back and recovering just doesn’t describe the depth that Resilience does. It’s one thing to recover from a strained ankle or a broken bone; to me that’s the clinical part, “ok, x-ray looks good, you should be fine to do whatever.” That to me is recovery. Resiliency is the getting back on the horse so to speak. Getting back on with not only the goal to do just that, but also new and more lofty goals, to crush my old standard and go farther and with any luck be better than I was before it happened.
On the day of that 2017 avalanche, were there are decisions you can identify that lead to the slide being triggered? Any decisions that could have possibly prevented it?
Hindsight reveals the bad calls for sure. For us I would claim that we fell into the stoke of the group and the quality of the snow, some false perceptions we should have cross checked. The hype got us though, came in sly and undetected.
After the slide happened, what sort of decision making took place to get everyone out alive?
The decision making after was incredible! I talk a lot of that in my What Doesn’t Kill You Doesn’t Kill You presentation. My two friends in particular were real life heroes! It was really cool to watch. Each one taking the lead on basically half the situation each. One other was buried and was found and dug out with a few minutes. It was very close to things being much worse than they were. But also, I must point out that two well practiced and trained people actually got 10 people out of that crazy situation alive. That’s a powerful event!
In your description of the WDKYDKY presentation, you have an interesting line about being able to “understand and share how I believe any of it was possible, accepting that it was possible…” At this point, what does that “acceptance” part mean to you?
It’s a trip. I know this. My friends and I put in so much time in the woods [Jones and crew’s secret Utah pre-season training area] practicing our “skills,” and we spent the time in the Streets practicing our “skills.” We put in that Time Under Tension so that we could if needed, handle some bull crap when it came our way. I always believed survival at its extreme challenges in our space was possible, so we put in time and “padded up” so to speak. Then the day came which we hoped never would, and that day I witnessed those practices— under massive stress and tension— manifest in my two buddies as power and confidence, turning them into superheroes incapable of making a mistake. It was seamless and beautiful to be a part of, and I saw there and knew I could “accept it was possible”— they proved it to me. Truly the most humbling scene I have ever seen.
What’s it been like to take all this stuff public? How did it feel to you?
It’s been scary to take it public! I made mistakes that day in the backcountry, and I talk about them openly— it’s really hard to be that vulnerable. It helps me in my own processing of the situation. I like to talk about it now, I feel like people could learn from it.
How has your presentation been received? Any thoughts on expanding the “program”?
I have had really great feedback. Some folks have shared with me after a few of presentations some very personal stuff, and how they are motivated and inspired to attack now, that they aren’t afraid anymore. I love that! It brings me to tears, to think that I can share a story and get someone hyped to go another day! Dude, that’s so cool to me, blows my mind. I really want to hone each “Layer” and create more specific presentations to each topic specifically. That’s my next phase in expanding this, from there, who knows… I am keeping the door open and I will try to be willing and open to opportunity if it comes my way through this venture.
So, where can people check the presentation out?
I am mostly booking them privately right now. I have had a couple where I was able to invite public and one I organized as an event (pay for tickets) set up. I’ve just been experimenting with different programming. So in short, it’s a bit at random and word of mouth. I post on Instagram when I have a gig usually. Even if it’s not open to everyone, just to keep some buzz going.
You’ve got a couple other websites linked at the bottom of WDKYDKY, thejeremyjonesexperience.com and thechildrenofmen.com… What are these, and do they point to other works in progress?
Yes… The Children of Men is what a group of our friends do our “design” work under. Its official as much as its not, haha. The JJ Experience will be a hub for all my projects that start to happen from this one, as well as a career time capsule, once I make the time to go through all that and build it all out. And it might be awhile on that, haha!