Jeremy Jones “Higher”: An Historic Statement About Snowboarding

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A snowboard movie or a movie about snowboarding?

This may seem like a question of semantics, but I’d like to draw a line in the sand, as follows.

– Snowboard movie: tricks, parts, under an hour, action focused, little plot-line.

– Movie about snowboarding: defined plot line, pushing past an hour, no full parts as much as chapters in a story.

So, with that out of the way, I watched a movie about snowboarding last night—Teton Gravity Research and Jeremy Jones’ “Higher,” to be exact. This particular movie about snowboarding comes on the heels of “Deeper” and “Further,” which, I may argue, have progressively moved more in to the category of “movie about snowboarding” with each installment of the trilogy. Compare “Deeper” to “Further” to “Higher” and you will see progressively more plot and character development, and progressively less actual snowboarding. And I would argue that each installment has been progressively better as a result.

It started with the energy alone. A lineup three blocks deep crowding the sidewalk in front of the marquis at the historic Neptune Theater in Seattle’s U District. Velvet-ish ropes. A packed house at the 800-seat venue. Even Stone from Pearl Jam was there. But it was a snowboard gathering, a party. The 21-and-over section wouldn’t shut up, even when the movie was rolling, which I see as a success. Heck, one of Jones’s accomplices whose name I shall strike from the record almost fell off the stage when called up for a thank you.

To the film: without getting too specific and/or giving too much away, it is comprised of a rough timeline of Jeremy’s life and a bit of background, with the main focus on three trips in particular. The first, riding the Grand Teton with Bryan Iguchi. The second, heavy Alaskan sessions with Ryland Bell. The third, his much-publicized trip to the Himalaya to ride the Shangri-La spine walls with Luca Pandolfi. If you were to just watch the action footage, the first two trips could be considered “normal” snowboarding, albeit at the limit of big mountain riding. For at least a minute or two, they were ripping in deep powder. Never mind the extensive preparation required to tag the lines with a calculated level of safety and style.

As for the Himalaya section, well, it stands alone as a mountaineering trip with otherworldly survival snowboarding as a snippet of the trip. Watching Jones get flushed off a spine wall at 20,000 feet, I would have been concerned for his life, were he not at the bar ordering a beer. As to why I may not consider it normal snowboarding: when I asked talented boarder and climber Lucas Debari if he had an interest in doing that kind of stuff, he replied, “Yeah, but not necessarily with my snowboard.”

Indeed, this third and final installment of Jones’ trilogy took snowboards to the edge of what many would consider rideable terrain. Each line took at least a month to crack the code, from base camp, to acclimatization, to weather. I could count the number of lines ridden throughout the movie on my ten fingers… and maybe five toes. Which is why I think it might be the best movie about snowboarding I’ve ever seen: it provides true insight into what it takes to achieve lines of total commitment, lines that take more than a heli bump or a three day mission or a safety briefing or a calculated huck. Lines that take a lifetime of dedication to understand and know, within reason, when and how to ride them, and how to survive to tell the story.

In the end, “Higher” provides even the casual viewer with a greater appreciation as to what it takes to truly develop the skills and knowledge required to ride massive mountains, of a lifetime of dedication to snowboard-centric alpinism. To continue to move one’s boundaries to the point where achieving these true feats of snowboard mountaineering is possible. It is also a statement about the whole crew—the cinematographers, guides, photographers, accomplices and conspirators, in that the story is told with class, style, and substance.

Kudos, Jeremy Jones and the “Higher” crew—you have set a benchmark of film-based storytelling on the subject of snowboarding. You have told a story about snowboarding that should inspire, educate and, ultimately, diversify the understanding of what snowboarding can be to both a current and future generations.

Still, one wonders: for Jeremy Jones, is this it? His magnum opus? And if not, what possibly could be next?


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