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Jeremy Jones: Tackling Iconic AK Lines by Foot

Shortly after landing in Valdez, Alaska, Jeremy Jones was scooped up from the airport by his two older brothers. His snowboarding gear was loaded in the car and they set out for Thompson Pass. As they wound through the Chugach mountains, Jeremy took in the landscape with wide eyes and disbelief. The 19-year-old from Cape Cod couldn’t believe what he was seeing, let alone fathom that people actually snowboarded down these giants. But there was one mountain in particular that took his breath away. It was much taller than the surrounding peaks and it appeared to have a natural ramp. Legend has it that the mountain was struck by a meteorite in 1927, thus giving it its name: Meteorite Mountain. 

It’s a heliskiing classic. Todd Jones and Dirk Collins bagged the first descents on the South Face. The first part is a blind rollover, which drops you into a sustained 50-degree pitch. On one side there’s full exposure, the other a series of cliff bands. But if you ride the line just right, it’s about 3,000 feet of shredding until the bottom. At the end of his first Alaskan adventure, Jeremy came back to Thompson pass and snowboarded down Meteorite. Absolutely elated when he reached the bottom, he made a promise to himself that he’d come back to Alaska every year for as long as he could.

RELATED: Jeremy Jones Shares His Thoughts from the Teton Wilderness

25 years later, he’s fulfilled that goal annually. But ever since that first visit, Jeremy never revisited Meteorite. The wait, while difficult, has been deliberate. He wasn’t going to snowboard it again unless he could walk from the road to the top of the mountain. For that to happen safely has required an immense amount of patience. Constantly keeping tabs on the snowpack and the weather, the conditions last winter finally lined up perfectly, so that Jeremy could consider giving it a go. As luck would have it, he would have a friend join him on the mission. Cody Townsend, who became a foot-powered phenom last year, also had Meteorite on his list for his acclaimed web series The Fifty Project. The two decided to join forces and embarked on the sufferfest together.

What’s so special about Meteorite Mountain?

Jeremy Jones: For a while I’ve considered that impossible question: what’s the best line in Alaska? I think Meteorite has always been high on that list because of how unique it is. Ever since the first time snowboarding it, I wanted to go back, but my goal was to hike it from the road.

It’s a ramp that’s cut into the side of the mountain and overall it’s roughly a 2,000-3,000 foot face that has a sustained fall line. It’s really steep. There’s a prolonged blind roll at the top. There’s also a cliff band, but to avoid the cliffs you have to navigate a couple of thousand feet of exposure. So it’s this incredibly airy line. You come over the edge and there’s the longest backhand wave ever that you can just open it up and bomb down. It’s a really serious line, but it’s also super rippable. That’s my dream line.

Meteorite is a heliskiing classic in Alaska. Nic Alegre Photo.

The mountain itself is stunning. It’s hard not to have your breath taken away when you look at it.

JJ: Yeah! So you can see how I’m enamored by it. When I first saw it I remember thinking “I didn’t know that they made mountains like that.”

I’ve had this dream of getting on the dragon’s tail, which is the spine that basically weaves in between the exposure and the ramp. It goes on for thousands of feet. I was equally excited to climb it as to ride it. From a mountaineering perspective, those ridges provide this incredible edge of the world feeling and are a generally a safe spot to be on the mountain. But in reality, on Meteorite, it wasn’t as defined of a spine that I was hoping for.

How does it feel to tackle a notorious AK heli line on foot?

JJ: It’s definitely one of the most famous runs in the Chugach—probably in all of Alaska-for heliskiing. Honestly, it was a very emotional experience. You don’t expect it until you go and do these things. Many times I’ll get to the top of a mountain and I’ll be overtaken by emotion. I was brought to tears on Meteorite this time.

Jeremy Jones, Cody Townsend, and Bjarne Salen head for the summit. Nic Alegre Photo.

Aside from the human-powered approach, what felt different from the time you rode it in ’94?

JJ: For one, the approach totally kicked our ass. Getting to the base of the mountain was way more involved than we anticipated. Once we got to the base you have to climb this steep face that gets you to that defined ridge, which was exciting. But it felt like it went on forever.

Whenever I climb something big I try to anticipate the hazards to look out for. I’m always thinking: Where is it going to get freaky? Climbing that upper convex roll was like looking down the barrel of a 3,000-foot shotgun—meaning that the smallest slide could send you 3,000 feet to the base of the line. There’s nowhere to hide in that scenario so that upper third of the mountain you’re hanging it out there. At that point, it is about walking gingerly and fast.

Do you have a greater appreciation for the descent when you take a foot-powered approach?

JJ: With these ascents, you go through every emotion of life and it's drawn out over a couple of hour period. That’s what makes it so unique. Instead of being a few minutes long it’s six, twelve, or twenty hours long. But at the same time, there’s so much fear and anxiety involved. To have a slope be safe for a few minutes so you can snowboard down is completely different from being on that same slope for hours.

For example, when you consider the possibility of a picnic-sized avalanche happening, that scenario changes when you’re climbing. If you’re on your snowboard and you’re going down the line you sometimes don’t realize that it’s even happened. If that happened under your feet while you’re climbing it could knock you off the mountain. It’s a lot more complex.

Even though Meteorite is a steep and committing line, Jeremy still rides the hell out of it. Nic Alegre Photo.

Why did you transition to doing only foot-powered missions?

JJ: At the heart of it, it means that your playground is infinite. It’s very limiting where you can take a machine. On top of that, it’s a drawn-out and intimate experience with the mountains, and it’s become a part of my DNA. You’ve given so much attention to these climbs that they really stick with you. The emotions from climbing and riding a mountain, opposed to just getting dropped off by helicopter, it’s a completely different level of depth and intimacy with the mountains. At the end of the day, the reason why I’m still snowboarding is to have that intimate connection with the outdoors. Hiking it is hands down the best way to do it. There are the obvious environmental reasons to hike, but there is no way I would have been able to stay on this path if I was hiking up this thing and thinking “Man, I wish I had a helicopter, but it’s bad for the environment.” I’d be at the beach now at that point.

Cody and Jeremy's careers share a similar progression into foot-powered missions. TGR Photo.

Has it been interesting to watch Cody pivot his career towards these kinds of missions?

JJ: I talked to Cody a lot about this. The first time I filmed for Deeper in Tahoe, Cody was with me. So we have a long history in the mountains together. The way he feels now is exactly how I felt ten years ago. There’s a lot of people who can get dropped off by a helicopter and snowboard down, and as I said in the book that follows Deeper, Further, and Higher, it was like we were going deer hunting with a jeep, spotlights, and shotguns. I just wanted to go into the mountains on my own terms, and instead, grab the bow and arrow and meet the mountains on more equal terms.

It’s just a richer experience rather than just being dropped off at the top and wondering what’s next when you get to the bottom.

It sounds like you and Cody have known each other for a while?

JJ: I’ve known him since he was a teenager. I remember he came up to me and told me that he rode Dirty Tooth, which is a pretty gnarly line in Tahoe. I couldn’t believe that this kid rode it, but sure enough, he did do it and it’s lead into this long and rewarding pro skiing career for him. We’ve shared similar sponsors and we live in the same town, so Cody isn’t someone I see all the time but has been a friend for a long time. He’s definitely someone I enjoy talking to because he’s a deep thinker and has a good perspective on life.

What did you first think of The Fifty Project?

JJ: I’ve always enjoyed my time in the mountains with Cody. When he came out with the Fifty Project I was instantly interested in connecting on a few objectives, and Meteorite was high on that list because I wanted a piece of it again. It was serendipitous to have him on that path and for it to align with this goal I’ve had for such a long time.

Safety is the number one priority for Jeremy with a line like this. Nic Alegre Photo.

How did the planning for the climb go?

JJ: It was one of those things where I told him if we get a long stretch of high pressure at the end of April we should give it a go. I know I was going to be in Alaska for a month and kept thinking of the scenario of conditions we needed to safely walk up that blind rollover to climb that thing. The scenario has usually gone in April that there’s no deep instability in the snowpack and we’re waiting for that stretch of high pressure, no wind, and perfect temps. It requires all these factors to line up and we’ve got to get an absolute screaming yes or we don’t even consider it. If it does line up, then it’s pretty simple. If I have an objective in mind I start watching it for months ahead of time—particularly for red flags in the snowpack. You can get a bad layer in the snowpack that shuts everything down. I went to Valdez for Higher, and I wanted to ride Meteorite but there was deep instability in the snowpack which led to a few freaky incidents that happened without rhyme or reason—very typical of deep instability—and I was out of there. You can’t walk up a mountain like that wondering if there is a bad layer 8 feet below you.

The whole mindset is really a TGR approach. We cross things off if we hear of a bad weak layer in the snowpack. I always go into the winter with lines all over the place. The Crazies is a great example. I’ve been wanting to go there for a long time. When I showed up people told me about the great timing we had, and that wasn’t by luck. We’d been waiting for the perfect Montana snowpack this whole time.

That’s a respectful approach to what Mother Nature is doing.

JJ: You can’t outsmart what Mother Nature is doing with the avalanche danger. My deal with bad layers is just to avoid them altogether. 

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