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In Search Of A Solution | The Jeremy Jones Interview – Part One

From the mountains to snowboard design, the backcountry legend continues to break new ground

As the world’s most famous freerider, the founder of a successful snowboard company and a tireless environmental campaigner, Jeremy Jones needs little introduction. He’s a man who has seen as much as anybody in over two decades of mountain exploration, so in the face of this most uncertain of winters we could think of no wiser head to speak to about how the pandemic might affect our riding habits – and what the future holds for splitboard design.

“Please, get outside; it is good for mental health; mental health is good for physical health.”

It’s been a wild year. Here in the UK we’ve had two full lockdowns and we’re still dealing with various restrictions; what’s the picture where you are?

Fortunately I’m in a rural area [Tahoe]. We were really concerned about the resorts shutting down, but then the governor specifically encouraged people to get outdoors and even listed snowboarding. They were like, “Go to the beach, go for a hike, go snowboarding and skiing!” So there’s no shaming anymore; they’ve finally accepted that this is an essential service. I don’t think I’ve ever had a political leader come out so clearly and say “Please, get outside; it is good for mental health; mental health is good for physical health.”

PC: Andrew Miller

And you’re less likely to catch the virus being outside, too.

Exactly. I remember going on bike rides back in the spring and going six feet off the trail when you see someone coming the other way. But we’ve learned a lot; you’re not getting it passing someone on the trail. So thankfully we’ve been able to do all our socialising through activities outdoors and have kept the indoor dinner parties at bay.

“It’s scrappy, it’s technical, but we’re out there riding every day”

So are the lifts open in Tahoe?

Yeah, the lifts are open. It’s scrappy, it’s technical, but we’re out there riding every day. We’ve got just enough snow to get in the backcountry.

Do you think you’ll leave North America this season?

No, definitely not. I haven’t been on a plane since it happened, and quite frankly – going back to Deeper times – I like to focus on specific areas and really get locked into them. So it’s always like, one long trip a year, and in the last couple of years my focus has really been on deep wilderness exploration within a day’s drive of my house; say, 12 hours.

PC: Andrew Miller

Your options for taking a snowboard where it might never have been are really good if you know how to walk for days on end and potentially sleep out there. So Covid hasn’t changed my own snowboarding that much.

I guess it’s just another trend that’s been accelerated by the pandemic.

Yeah. I’ve been on this path for a while. When I get free sections in my calendar I’ve learned how to take my winter camping gear really far into the mountains for up to 10 days at a time.

PC: Andrew Miller

I love the idea of getting past the guide books, getting past the known; and there’s no barrier financially, ‘cos putting three people in a car and driving to a trail head doesn’t cost anything. It’s something I’ve been drawn to for over 10 years now, and as I’ve gotten better at it, it’s got me more excited to explore these areas that are in my extended backyard.

I guess you could say that’s a more profound kind of freedom than flying all over the place, right?

Yeah. There was a quote in the original TGR movie: “He chose to be rich by making his wants few and supplying them himself.” The bar that I need to step over to have a good time in the mountains continues to get lower and lower. I’m so grateful that I’m not going “If it’s not perfect then I can take it or leave it.”

“It’s not that I won’t ever get on a plane to go snowboarding again, but it will be for some grandiose, epic trip”

Right now there’s a 20 to 40 cm base, and I spent the day splitboarding yesterday, like bushwhacking – by all accounts as desperate as it gets – and I rode a couple of things I’d never ridden and had an awesome day in the mountains.

I’m sure that with this great pause, there will be a time when I’m really excited to go somewhere further afield. It’s not that I won’t ever get on a plane to go snowboarding again, but it will be for some grandiose, epic trip. But 90 percent of my travel previously has been around business, and Covid’s been great for eliminating that side.

Speaking of business, you take a real hands-on approach to the Jones line. And we know the Solution has had a major upgrade this year. Can you tell us about it?

If I could have one snowboard in the world, it is the Solution. It shares the same shape as the Flagship, which dates back to my Rossignol years. Not that you would necessarily see that if you put them together, but that’s kinda my contest, high-end shortboard (to use a surfing analogy) where I’ve just been refining and fine-tuning that. It’s a real do-everything board that I love.

The 2020/21 Jones Solution Splitboard (Image courtesy of Jones Snowboards)

I could draw a 20 year timeline of that shape, and there’d be chunks of five years where we were just tweaking flex and things of that nature, and then there’s like a flip in the timeline where we added rocker to it, and changed the nose shape. And a year ago, we put another big marker in the timeline; we made a significant upgrade that was years in the making.

We don’t take changes to that board lightly; the amount of testing we need to do to make sure it’s the right thing and we’re not going backwards is significant. So this new Solution – I’ve fallen in love with it all over again and I basically haven’t been off it other than grabbing a Storm Chaser if it’s three feet of pow and I’m riding low angle trees.

“I feel like we’ve really nailed it with this one; it’s not the lightest splitboard in the world but it is a light splitboard that rides incredibly well in all conditions”

What was the key challenge with it?

When we started down the path there was no endpoint. It was just, “Let’s see if we can take something that we honestly thought was virtually flawless and make it better.” For years, I’d mention the idea of a full redesign to the reps and they would be like, “You’re crazy; don’t touch that thing.” So just wrapping my head around the idea that it could be made better – having that open mind and ability to not be tied to preconceived notions – was the challenge.

PC: Andrew Miller

What’s the secret sauce in the new version?

The shape upgrade is huge; bringing the spoon into the nose, and giving it a little more taper than a traditional Solution. And then with splitboards it’s always this delicate dance of making them light, but also good at handling choppy, chattery snow. I feel like we’ve really nailed it with this one; it’s not the lightest splitboard in the world but it is a light splitboard that rides incredibly well in all conditions.

“We could make lighter splitboards, but they would ride like shit”

Is there ever a time when you might want more weight? For instance, adding weight to the tail to help it sink?

I like your thought there! I’ve never thought about adding weight in the tail to raise the nose; that’s fun stuff, I’m gonna chew on that! But no, the weight thing… we call it ‘right light’ internally. We could make lighter splitboards, but they would ride like shit. This whole forum thing of ‘who’s got the lightest splitboard’ is not something we’re trying to win. Absolutely, it’s awesome having a lighter splitboard walking uphill; the trick is: where can you skip on weight and where can you not? And we’re getting better at that – where we’re able to reduce weight but, say, keep a proper core under your feet. That’s what we get excited about.

PC: Andrew Miller

How does the 3D shape make so much difference to the new Solution?

The big thing is the initiation of a turn. If you think of when you’re surfing, you’re on this wide surfboard and yet it rolls into turns. You don’t go “Putting it on edge… turn!” but you do on a snowboard.

With this 3D shape that we’ve learned from Christenson, you just roll into the turn easier. And then once you’re into the turn, you’re on a normal sidecut. So it’s this little thing, but once you feel it, it’s hard to go back. And because splitboards are kinda heavier – you don’t ever think of a splitboard as nimble and spry – the 3D makes it quicker edge-to-edge, which is something that was missing.

“What I would say is there are certain things that a splitboard has going for it that solids don’t”

Also, as we go a little bit wider, that traditionally would make the roll into a turn even harder and longer, but that’s where you really feel the advantage of spoon. So we were able to add taper, which inevitably makes it a little wider in the nose, but you can still get into a turn fast.

Are we at a place where splitboards can feel exactly the same as a regular board?

To say it feels exactly the same – we’re not there. But what I would say is there are certain things that a splitboard has going for it that solids don’t. And we’re definitely at a place where I won’t be bummed to be on a splitboard at any point.

PC: Andrew Miller

We crossed that line a couple of years ago when we were testing new Flagships in the morning and new Solutions in the afternoon. To do that we were at resorts in shitty snow, ‘cos that’s where you feel the worth of a board. And inevitably you feel like, “Bummer, after lunch I’m switching to a splitboard to ride bumpy hardpack” but then going out I was like, “Wow, this splitboard is handling these conditions really well!”

Another example would be going to Europe where I can bring one board. 50 percent of my time will be in resort, and 50 percent will be splitboarding, and I won’t wish I had a different board at any point. That’s a new thing as of a couple of years ago.

“If it’s in the spring with volcanoes and things of that nature, where it’s bulletproof to slush – the Ultracraft comes into play”

So generally you’ll only choose from the Solution or the Storm Chaser?

Yeah. I mean, when we’re developing stuff I’ll get on different boards. And if I’m going out with really fast people – if it’s in the spring with volcanoes and things of that nature, where it’s bulletproof to slush – the Ultracraft comes into play. That thing’s almost like a mountaineering board.

PC: Andrew Miller

It’s amazing how board design continues to evolve year after year. Where does the inspiration come from?

Well, the Stratos was a groundbreaking board for us. That was a total experiment; it has a lot of taper so there’s a wide nose there, but we also put a ton of spoon into it – the most we’ve ever put into a board – and full camber. I only bring that up because it’s a glimpse of that journey that you’re on. Certain things you learn on boards change your perspective on all boards moving forward.

Tune in soon for Part 2 

Find out more on the Jones Splitboard page here, or get more information on the Jones Solution Spliboard here.

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