At the launch of Jeremy Jones's new book, The Long Way Down, we sat down with the man himself and asked him to outline some key things that people should consider before- and while venturing off the marked runs. With snow now finally blanketing Europe's peaks there's understandably been a lot of people frothing for pow, but already we've seen avalanches tragically take a number of riders so hopefully this insight into Jeremy's backcountry headspace will help you stop, think, evaluate and stay safe the next time you're out there...
1. GET EDUCATED
Before you even get into the backcountry you’ve got to get educated in the form of avi classes. There’s a tonne of online media, there’s books, there’s so much material out there. So before you even leave your house you know that North East aspects, 2500m, are off the table. You have your pre-game game plan.
2. FIND MENTORS
Getting a mentor and spending time in the mountain with someone with a lot of experience, asking questions, observing, watching, learning... that’s the single best way to get experience in the mountains. I recommend that you go in with your buddies and get a guide.
3. UNDERSTANDING SLAB CHARACTERISTICS
I don’t know the exact classifications because it's different in Europe, it’s a 1 through 5? 5 being extreme, 1 being low, we have a deal that is similar ratings but not numbers. So 2, what we call moderate, there’s also what I call ‘spooky moderate’ which freaks me out the most. When it’s high avalanche danger that’s it, it’s easy. I sleep great at high avalanche danger, even considerable. You take avalanches out of the equation on those days [by not putting yourself near a situation]. The tricky deal is moderate, and then ‘spooky moderate’ is when it is unlikely for an avalanche to occur but if one does occur it’s going to be large and destructive. That’s the shit that kills a lot of experts. I hate those conditions.
4. TERRAIN SELECTION
Terrain selection is essential. Always asking ‘what happens if it slides?’ Ideally, having that answer not be ‘I die’. So there’s all that scientific side that I mentioned, but [terrain is] equally important, and the thing that I spend a lot of time on because my education level is pretty high. I’ve lost people in the mountains, friends of mine that have even more formalised training and I ask myself if that guy could make that mistake on that day and miss those signs, then I could too.
We spend so much time on the technical side, I don’t think we spend enough time on the mental side, and I ask myself when I see an accident, how did he miss those mental keys? I came up with these mental keys that I use for myself which are:
a) Leave the ego behind; I see it all the time in the mountains. When I go into the mountains and - I get it a lot - a guy will be like ‘oh Jeremy Jones is in town I’m going to show him how rad I am, and get more rad today than normal." As soon as I see any ego, that guy is off the list. Also myself: have I had a bunch of success? Am I now in this puffed up ego? And I have been guilty of that. So humility is incredibly important.
"When I go into the mountains and - I get it a lot - a guy will be like ‘oh Jeremy Jones is in town I’m going to show him how rad I am, and get more rad today than normal." As soon as I see any ego, that guy is off the list."
b) Be in the present moment, leave all the bullshit of the internet and real life behind.
c) Don’t chase something for a photo or video clip. I’ve beaten that out of myself a long time ago. I learned early on that you can’t snowboard with a camera; it will kill you.
d) Patience. Just because it’s Saturday or your last day of the trip, the mountains are on their own time.
e) I must say this in my head hundreds of times: "Just say no." I go into the mountains looking for reasons to turn around and expecting to turn around. It’s only when I turn all these no’s into yes’s that I can stand at the top of the line. As I’m moving up the mountain, I might be super close to the top, like 8 hours into my day, my whole time in my head I’m thinking there’s a really good chance that in the last 10 minutes of the climb there could be a wind slab, which is very common, so I’m expecting all day to get 10 minutes from the top and run into a wind slab and have to turn around. And then I get there and it’s like ‘Oh my god! there’s no wind slab, we can keep going, holy shit we’re at the top now. I cannot believe I get to strap into my snowboard right now. I thought for sure that I was going to have to turn around here, here, here and here.'
"I go into the mountains looking for reasons to turn around and expecting to turn around. It’s only when I turn all these no’s into yes’s that I can stand at the top of the line."
f) Ride for tomorrow. Tomorrow is cool too, you know.
g) Celebrate backing down. I keep track in my head, and if it hasn’t happened in a while and I get into a scenario where I’m like ‘I don’t man, what should we do?’ I’m like, 'Fuck dude, it’s been two weeks since we turned around, let’s turn around.' You’ve got to practice it; it’s a red flag for me if I haven’t turned around in a while.
h) On the Jones Snowboards site, we have five red flags which you absolutely should address and read before you leave the house. That stays at the front of the brand. I put that stuff on my snowboards for myself.
i) Don’t talk yourself into it. For example, digging a snow pit can be a dangerous tool. You make this beautiful pit, you feel empowered, you’re talking about avalanche danger, you’re looking at layers, but meanwhile there are red flags all over the place. You don’t even need to dig a pit. Snow pits are a research thing, they shouldn’t dictate whether or not you ride a slope. Most of the time it will just serve to talk you into it. If you have concerns on a slope, you probably have concerns for a real reason – digging a pit shouldn’t change those.
The sad part is, which keeps me studying as well, is that we lose a lot of really educated people as well. That’s why I always think about the worst case scenario; that gets me turning around a lot. Which is a good thing because you want to be out there tomorrow, too.