For our half-day trek into the backcountry, Jones outfits me with a prototype splitboard from his line, which has been sold out and back-ordered since the day it launched in 2009. It's early on a clear, crisp Friday when we meet up with Ryland Bell, a Jones team rider, at a trailhead behind Alpine Meadows resort. We put "skins" (adhesive strips that give skis grip for uphills) on the two halves of the board, assemble our collapsible poles, and stuff sundries into our packs. Then we trudge across a clearing in our snowboard boots, past an idle lift, and into the woods.
Two hours and 1,800 vertical feet later, I unbuckle my boots, scramble over some rocks, and collapse onto the craggy top of Grouse Ridge, a 7,000-foot-plus mountain with 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe – and beyond it, thousands of acres of backcountry rarely accessed by anyone. Jones points out a ridge with a band of cliffs that would be snow-covered in a more typical December and identifies it as terrain featured prominently in 'Deeper.' "I've looked at that view 1,000 times. But one day I just saw it and thought, 'Why aren't we riding that?' " The answer, unstated, is because the area is off-limits to snowmobiles and helicopters, and to reach it requires hiking or skinning another half-day and camping overnight. "That's 'Deeper' in a nutshell," he says.
Maybe the happiest by-product of giving himself over to human-powered ascents is that reaching high peaks under his own power is "a much fuller experience, to find this dream line and figure out how to do it on foot – the high from that is way higher," he says, than the one he was getting on heli-trips, in which he'd knock off four or five major descents before lunch. "At the end of the day, that's what it's about – what gets your rocks off the most." It has also changed the way Jones boards at home. "Even in Tahoe," he says, "it seems like 80 percent of the time, I'm riding something I've never ridden before."
Jones hopes that more young snowboarders will follow his lead. "There's a customer who's not being served, and there are a lot of 25-, 30-, 35-year-old snowboarders who have been banished from the sport because they're not 15 and trying to learn a new trick." The industry, he thinks, is doing itself no favors focusing on youth. "Snowboarding has put so much energy into trying to emulate skateboarding. The problem with that is you get this attitude where, if you're not in the park trying to learn a new trick, it's time to move on. And a lot of people do."
Rider Danny Davis has made his career in the halfpipe but sees the power in Jones's message. Jeremy, he says, "brings snowboarding for life to the table. I won't be flipping in a halfpipe forever, but he will be riding new lines until he dies." It strikes me that Jeremy's goal with Jones Snowboards, and with the trickle-down effect of his movies, is to help snowboarding accept its middle age – no offense to the guys in the pipe.
Which isn't to say he doesn't still love flying downhill. Up on Grouse, he points to the two slabs of my board to indicate that I should begin assembling it, then peels the skins off his. He walks to an opening in the rocks where the icy snow has softened, offering up a mini-bowl that leads into some trees. He sits down to clip in. "I want you to take it real mellow," he says, "like second gear. Just enjoy the ride." With that, he drops straight into the narrow chute, cuts a hard left, and disappears into a huge, arcing turn that sprays wet snow into the bright, blue afternoon.