Published by Jeremy Jones
Mountain Safety

Story by Jeremy Jones

Disclaimer: I am not an avalanche expert. My personal protocol to approaching the backcountry is something I am always trying to evolve and improve. I have made many mistakes in the mountains. I take these mistakes seriously and I try to learn from them.

As I come over the roll my stomach drops. I am in the wrong spot. I’m five feet left of where I need to be and as much as I fight to correct my mistake I can not. I am going too fast to stop and am now descending an unrideable rock strewn face. I skip down some rocks, take some unwanted air, land on some rocks and start rolling in a place I should not be rolling.

My mistake was that I misread one of two identical shadows as the entrance to my line. Tactically a true statement but my mistake that day was more mental then tactical. Why did I blow that call? When it comes to analyzing mistakes made by ourselves or other people we tend to focus too much on “what” the mistake was and not enough on “why” the mistake was made.

You see it on the internet forums and hear it in the bar room every time there is a fatality in the mountains. “How could they have missed the signs?! I would have never done that, etc.”

Some accidents are extremely reckless and do not keep me up at night. It’s when I see experienced backcountry experts dying in the mountains that I lose sleep thinking about their mistakes. What led them to make that mistake that day? If they missed the call then who am I to say I would never do the same thing?

The day of my fall down the rock face I was over confident, in a rush and not present. I made several mental mistakes that nearly cost me my life. Looking back at this accident and other mistakes I have made over the years, I realized there were a few common lessons to be learned from all these experiences. I turned these "mental keys" into a checklist that I go over in my head every time I step into the mountains. Here’s the list:

Present Moment
“Mountains Speak, Wise Men Listen,” is a John Muir quote I live by. Am I present enough to read the signs? Life can be crazy but I view walking into the mountains as walking through a portal into a different world. A world that does not care about life’s dramas. The mountains demand your full attention. Turn the phone off and start reading the signs.

For the real serious lines I like to disconnect from the world and camp in front of the mountain for long periods of time to feel the mood of the line and observe the weather cycles.

Humility vs Ego
The battle between ego and humility is one of the greatest mental challenges of daily life. Am I over confident? Do I, anyone in the group, or the group as a whole have a big ego today? Is our confidence over-boosted by recent success? Observing and avoiding over amping ego in other people is easy but it is much harder to see in yourself. Lack of humility is one of my most common mistakes at times when I have screwed up in the mountains.

The mountains do not care that your only day off is Saturday, it is the last day of your trip, or that the shadow is creeping up your line. For the real serious lines the calendar and your agenda needs to be thrown out the window. The more critical a line is the rarer it is in form. A serious line with consequences should be looked at as unrideable. It is only in rare occurrences that they become ridable. That window can be minutes long. As quick as it opens it can also close.

Ride For Tomorrow
When I get the opportunity to be around longtime backountry riders or mountaineers I always try and soak up their knowledge. I often ask, “any advice for being able to do this into my whole life?” 72 year old Norwegian snowboard legend Tommen summed it up best. “Tomorrow is good too. Ride for Tomorrow.” The season is a marathon not a sprint. Do not force the issue. “What happens if this slope slides or I make a mistake?” I ask this over and over moving through the mountains. Don’t hide from the answer. Try and avoid the “I die if it slides” answer at all costs.

Just Say No
This is another mantra I say over and over going into the mountains. The mountains are guilty until proven innocent. I do not like to say, I am going to ride xxx, rather, I am going to look at xxx. I do not become mentally attached to a line until I am dropping into it. Look for reasons to back down and anticipate that the turn around point may be at the top of a line you just spent hours hiking to the top of. I get antsy if I have not backed off a line in awhile. Celebrate when you do turn around. Nothing shows your head is in the right place more then backing off a line.

Here are a few dramatic crashes that occurred about ten years ago while filming with Standard Films and TGR.

The avy looks a lot more dangerous then it was. We were dealing with 1 to 5 inches of new snow on a hard surface. The snow was extremely dry and smokey and had zero density to it. The heaviest avalanche scenarios I have been involved with have occurred in intermediate terrain not while I was filming.

The tumble down the pinner chute was the scariest and most serious of the bunch. I hit a uphill ice chunk that sent me supermanning headfirst down the chute at 50mph.

I learned an important lesson this day about foot powered snowboarding. The emotional high of topping out at sunrise, mixed with the cocktail of endorphins from hiking and the adrenaline of dropping into a dream line had me peaking like never before. Riding this buzz I throttled the line way too hard.

The mountains are not going anywhere. No line is worth dying for. Hopefully these mental keys I have learned the hard way help keep you safe. And remember, one bad call can erase 1,000’s of good calls. Ride to live another day!

Share Story
Published on
8 December 2015
Trip Reports - Videos
Ode To Muir: The Inspiration And Challenges Of Jeremy Jones’ New Film
As mountain explorers that often visit wilderness areas, it’s easy to take these protected areas for granted. When you see a wilderness sign at a trailhead you don’t often contemplate the bureaucratic battle that it...
Jeremy Jones
Introducing The Mind Expander Collection
Forrest Shearer exits a Wasatch whiteroom riding the Jones Mind Expander. Photo - Andrew Miller One of the coolest things about snowboarding is that every run you take is a new opportunity to draw a creative line down the mountain. Even if...
Forrest Shearer, Harry Kearney
Adventure Season - Videos
Lyngen Lines - Splitboarding In Norway With Miikka Hast
Between the insane terrain and amazing access, the Lyngen Alps of Norway are one of the premiere splitboard destinations on the planet. Few know the faces, summits and couloirs of the Lyngen Peninsula better than Finnish freerider Miikka Hast....
Miikka Hast
Jones Snowboards Sizing Guidelines
Ready to buy a Jones board but shaky on what size to get? Here’s the lowdown on how to size our boards based on experience from Jeremy Jones and the Jones team. These suggested sizing guidelines are based on rider weight, rider height, boot...
Jeremy Jones
My Priority By Jeremy Jones
Jeremy and the POW crew storm the steps of the US Capitol in Washington D.C. Photo - Forrest Woodward I make hundreds of decisions in the mountains every year that could have dire consequences. To make the right decisions time and again...
Jeremy Jones
Meet The Team
Sammy Luebke Wins 2018 Freeride World Tour And Xtreme Verbier
He done, done, done it again! With a commanding win at the Xtreme Verbier 2018 on April 1st, Sammy Luebke clinched an unprecedented third consecutive Freeride World Tour overall title and Xtreme Verbier victory! Sammy is the first athlete in...
Sammy Luebke