Finding longevity as a snowboarder can be difficult. Not just as a pro rider, but recreationally, too. Reach a certain level and progression becomes incremental at best. Aging joints and diminishing freestyle skills make it hard to keep things fresh. But there’s another path. Jeremy Jones has figured it out. He calls it “shralpinism.”
Now in his late 40s, Jones has cultivated an atypical career arc. Racing at the forefront, heli-assisted big mountain charging at peak performance, a self-powered revolution in his 30s—it’s been about edge control and risk management for three-plus decades. And in his recent book, The Art of Shralpinism, Jones offers lessons learned through the soft science of experience to help guide readers through a freeride-centric path to a lifetime on snow.
Reading as equal parts textbook and memoir, Jones takes us through his upbringing in Cape Cod, his pursuit of Olympic fame, his shift to big mountain pursuits, and his eventual discovery of a slower, more detail-oriented path through splitboarding. Anecdotes of specific moments are used appropriately to supplement the lessons, especially for a reader with a breadth of backcountry experience. Aiming to cover it all, some of the information Jones presents could be second nature for folks who’ve put in plenty of time on the skintrack, but there were still plenty of practical nuggets for this backcountry rider of 20-plus years, particularly when it comes to insights on expedition tactics—always be boiling water, take the time to fully recline and relax every chance you get, and so on. And for a reader just beginning their backcountry journey, I’m sure it all can help expedite the process towards competency and confidence.
Just as there is no perfect piece of art, there is no perfect approach to traveling in the mountains. Yes, there are foundational rules that can put someone on the right path, but it’s ultimately a subjective experience full of nuance and evaluation. In the mountains, we can stack the deck in our favor, but the balance of risk, skill and timing is ultimately on the small collection of individuals who work together to pursue a specific goal. Jones lays bare his personal process through trial and error, reflection, escapism and hard truths, displaying how he found his way through a life in the mountains that continues to pave the way for up-and-coming generations of freeriders, including his own children. Group dynamics are, as they should be, at the forefront.
Less a defined narrative and more a manual, Jones has crafted a subtly spiritual tome of the naturalist snowboarder. There is a weightiness to some of his prose, suggesting a path to personal peace through outdoor pursuits, a refined version of which has allowed Jones to pursue snowboard-based enlightenment, one foot in front of the other—the path of shralpinism.
Like any work of art, it’s all subjective, and rarely perfect. If I had to level a critique of the book, it would be that the abundant sidebar vignettes often break the baseline text mid-sentence and carry on for a while, pulling the reader in and out of the underpinning lessons that carry the piece in full. The anecdotes are good, and the substantive commentary also good, but the flow is lost in the layout at times. Poetry and paintings add flavor, and journal excerpts of lessons learned stand-alone unto themselves, but I do feel they could have been placed within the rhythm of the overarching text with a little more fluidity.
That said, the content in the sidebars is relevant: Jones speaks through example of how he has found his lifelong path, while recognizing this piece isn’t as much a guide as an exemplary exploration of how one might find their own version of peace through self-propulsion in wintry mountainscapes. His candor and vulnerability through it all exemplifies a lesson in humility that we all should carry into the backcountry and beyond.
Ultimately, in The Art of Shralpinism, Jones shares a meaningful perspective and plenty of practical knowledge with readers, providing a chance for us to learn from one of the best to ever do it. He also leaves space perhaps for a full-dive memoir. But, with an eye to future adventures prevalent throughout the piece, maybe it isn’t time for that quite yet.
The Art of Shralpinism [published in 2022 by Mountaineers Books] can be bought at mountaineers.org/books or your local bookseller.