Starting October 24, Red Bull's website (watch here) will screen Higher free for 24 hours, ending at 3 pm on October 25. The freeride snowboard film was a finalist at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and tells the story of legendary snowboarder Jeremy Jones. Shot and produced with Teton Gravity Research, the movie is the third and final in a series, preceded by 2010's Deeper and Further (2012). Men's Journal spoke with Jones ahead of the film's first screening about what he'd learned, his lobbying efforts to stop climate change, and how he carved the Himalayas.
How exciting is it for you to debut the final film of your trilogy?
Well, I'm really excited for this film. Making them is a lot of work. But sending it out into the world is also terrifying and I'll feel a lot better once that thing's been shown.
Why is that?
This film is a really intimate look at why I do what I do. It’s hard to be that exposed as a person. And we put so much time into it that by the time we're getting down the end, we don’t even know how the film's going to do. You start having doubts on every film. You know, is it really any good? I've been in over 50 films, it's always been the same thing, where you're like, "Man I hope people like this."
You've said in your riding you're progressing at all times, and you can look back and see mistakes that you've made in the past. Is it similar in the filmmaking process?
They're very parallel. Learning how to execute the snowboarding stuff properly — evaluate the mountain, figure out how to safely get up it, safely get down it — that stuff has really changed with these three films. And right along that evolution has been how we document what we're doing in the mountains, and then even in the editing room, how we turn that raw footage into a compelling story.
So is Higher the pinnacle of the three?
Yeah, it’s bigger. There's no question that this one is on a bigger scale. Like me taking my snowboarding to places I've never taken it, shooting the whole thing on 4K, and the editing phase has been a 14-month process as opposed to a four-month edit.
So is it fair to say that the process of these movies has opened your eyes to bigger lines and bigger peaks?
Yeah. I remember how excited when we shot Deeper and I figured out, Hey, this on-foot approach is totally working, meaning I can go and ride the best lines of my life by climbing the peak and it's not dictated by whether I can get a snowmobile, a helicopter, or a chairlift there. That was like, all of a sudden, get me back to a map, everything's in play now. I now look at things and the harder it is to get there, the more fun it would be if you eventually get to ride it.
Is it still a release to go into the mountains and ride, or has it become work?
No, thank God. I still have the mountain side of it. And I really protect that, because that's what drives me as a person and makes me tick. Without that mountain time, none of it's worth it to me. From an early age, it was all about, “How can I figure out work so I can snowboard every day?" And that's still the goal. I'm doing all this fun stuff, with snowboards and Protect Our Winters, and different product development stuff. I really enjoy all that, but if that's getting in the way of my snowboarding, than I've gone too far and I made a mistake.
Do you ever feel that the extraneous stuff has gotten in the way of snowboarding?
It has in January when I go to back-to-back trade shows. [Laughs] But that's followed with a completely-unplugged phase where I just go into the mountains for three to four months. At times, when I get done snowboarding for the day, I end up having to go home and put out fires on the computer. I'll get way behind on emails and stuff — I apologize to anyone out there — but I'm okay with letting that stuff slip.
Is there one moment in the filming of this that stands out?
The main story of the film takes place around three different descents, the Grand Teton, the peak in the Eastern Alaska range, and this remote peak in the Himalayas. When I watch it I'm in awe that we were able to successfully pull off all three of those. If I went next winter, I'd be lucky to get one. If you had talked to me at the end of each one of those trips, I would have said, that has to be the highlight of the film.
Were there any moments where you didn't think it was going to happen?
On all three of them. If we had talked two weeks into the Alaska trip and you asked if I thought we were going to ride this line, I would have said there's a 10-percent chance. Similar with the Himalayas. The Tetons is a little bit different because it's something I could watch closely. But the line that we hit in the Tetons, I had been trying to hit for years. If I wanted to repeat those lines in those conditions, it could take 10 years. It’s common for these big lines like that to get really close and then the weather changes and it's off the table for months or years.
What was the Himalayan trip like?
The Himalayas was way out of my comfort zone. I had never been there. I was trying to ride my most ambitious descent in a range I had no experience in, and one that's known for hard snow. It was a total crap shoot. I did as much pre-planning in the sense of whether it was rideable or not. That's really where my focus is. Once I think that there's a chance, I basically make the call to Teton Gravity and say, "let's go." Normally I would never take risks throwing the movie budget on one objective — there’s no plan B and this thing is an ice mine — but I just felt like it was time to do it. It was time to see what the Himalayas are all about.
How did you decide to climb and ride this unclimbed, unnamed peak?
Well, I saw a picture of it. It started with my main cameraman sending me a photo of it, and it was pretty much the most beautiful mountain I had ever seen. But we couldn’t see the line. But we figured out that it was at the right elevation, 17,000 to 22,000 feet, where it would be our best chance to find decent snow and be at an altitude that we could manage without oxygen. Part of the problem was that everyone goes over there for the dry season to climb, but we went at the wet time of year, in hopes of getting soft snow.
Is doing lobbying on behalf of Protect Our Winters in any way similar to riding these big lines? Is it just as terrifying?
It's interesting because the mindset and the focus of, say, getting ready to go talk to Congress and getting ready to go climb up and ride a serious line is very similar. I definitely sleep better when I'm going to congress the next day than when I'm going to step up to one of these serious lines. We've had plenty of frustration with lobbying, but it can be exciting.
I've been to Congress or the White House four times and to see how much the conversations changed in that period. There was a time when even the politicians that believe in climate change, you'd go, close doors, and turn off all recorders to talk. It was this taboo time. It was like political disaster if they said that climate change was real and this was happening. But they're very comfortable now. What the White House is doing with this EPA is really exciting. We've seen a bunch of different changes and right now, it's at a great place.
Have you been disappointed President Obama hasn’t done more to react to climate change?
The problem was, I think, unfortunately due to the political climate. There was no way Obama was getting a second term if he was trying to cram this climate change and a Co2 reduction plan in his first term. So I was really disappointed in that. When he got re-elected, it was like, alright, let's see if he's for real or not.
So after the end of this movie series, what’s next?
[Laughs] Definitely more adventure, more of what I've been doing. How I document that, I don't know. But my love of snowboarding is stronger than it's ever been. My list of places that I want to ride and mountains that I want to ride has never been so big. The movies came along and documented where I'm at with my snowboarding over a six-year period. And even if the movies go away, the progression and the path that I've been on, I'll be on that path forever.
The official Higher trailer.