Photos: Chris Wellhausen
Six years ago, Jeremy Jones set out in search of terrain that was beyond the reach of snowmobiles and helicopters in the film Deeper, the first in the Deeper-Further-Higher trilogy. He believed that by camping in the mountains and ascending mountain faces by foot he could unlock dozens of untouched lines.
In Higher, Jones continues this theme, pushing farther into uncharted territory while significantly upping the stakes with the peaks he sets his sights on. The film is part biography, giving us a look at how a kid from Cape Cod who started snowboarding as a hardbooting racer became the world's best big mountain rider; and part anatomy of the three main descents that Jones and his dedicated crew take on—Wyoming's Grand Teton, Alaska's Mt. Timlin, and Nepal's Shangri-La.
It's the limited amount of riding though, that marks the biggest difference between Higher and Jones's first two films. While Deeper and Further take a documentary-style approach to the challenges of ascending and descending peaks, moving beyond boundaries, and man's relationship with nature, both were packed with riders shredding down dozens of powder-filled lines, set to rock and punk soundtracks. This isn't totally outside of what you'd expect for a snowboard film.
With Higher, we're given a much more detailed look at what goes into a Jeremy Jones line. There's the harrowing climb up the Grand Teton; tents collapsing under the snowstorm at the base of the Timlin face; and the weeks-long ascent with acclimation stops to high camp in Nepal—sherpas shaking their heads the whole way at what Jones hopes to ride. The features are without a doubt, the most consequential of his career, and many times it appears even he has found his limit. Aside from the guides, the cast of riders accompanying Jones has also been whittled down to one partner per climb, including Bryan Iguchi on the Grand Teton, Ryland Bell on Mt. Timlin, and Luca Pandolfi on Shangri-La. Much of the riding footage features the group scraping, and even roping, down faces in critical, no-fall scenarios.
At the same time, we get a glimpse at Jones's personal life. His wife, Tiffany, gives her take on what she goes through when Jones is exploring some of the most remote mountain regions for weeks at a time and we hear from his kids, pleading for him not to leave. All of this adds to the tension of the film—not only are the lines Jones rides more intense than anything he’s done, but with his family waiting at home we understand what's at stake if something goes horribly wrong.
Despite the fact that you know everything turns out okay, given that Jones introduced the film to an audience of 2,000 fans at the base of Squaw Valley on Saturday, September 6, the movie still keeps you completely on the edge from start to finish.
Higher isn't a film that you'll put on every morning to get stoked to go snowboarding. It doesn't give you clip after clip of riders carving the fresh lines of your dreams—don't worry, plenty of other movies this season will be stacked full of that. But Jones has spent decades filming these sort of shots and at this point, he says, he’d rather put a ton of energy into riding the best line of his life, which is what you see. Beyond the evolution of Jones's riding, it marks an evolution of story-telling in snowboard filmmaking, and in that sense it delivers the best understanding yet of what it takes for Jones to tackle peaks at the outer limits of human ability.