Action film star, snowboard entrepreneur, in Mammoth this weekend
Jeremy Jones says he has a good idea what the worst job in the mountains might be.
“I think what the ski patrols do in places like Mammoth, Squaw, Jackson Hole, Aspen, you know, avalanche prone areas, first, I would not want the avalanche forecast job, nor the Ski Patrol.”
That might sound odd coming from one of the premier backcountry snowboarders on the planet, but the 37-year-old Truckee resident, at Eagle Lodge Saturday night for a fund-raiser for avalanche awareness, said Thursday he’s already seen enough this year to confirm his opinion.
Jones has been caught in slides plenty of times. Some, he said, were small ones, the width of “a couple of picnic tables” and a few were large ones. It is not as if he seeks them out, he said, despite avalanches playing big parts in Jones’ movies, “Deeper” (2010) and the second of a planned trilogy, “Further,” which premiered at Squaw Valley last September.
Yet it was in this past December’s round of storms in California that left Jones a bit slack jawed.
First, veteran Alpine Meadows Ski Patroller Bill Foster, 53 years old and a 28-year member of the Alpine Patrol, died after getting caught in an intentionally triggered slide on Christmas Eve Day at the resort.
During the same storm that brought about avalanche conditions up and down West Coast mountain ranges, a skier was blown straight out of a chairlift at one of the Tahoe resorts.
Finally, a 49-year-old veteran ski patroller in Aspen last week also died while doing avalanche control work inside the ski area boundaries at Snowmass, struggling to get the ski areas open for the holiday crowds.
“I struggle with this,” Jones said, “because the last storm we had two deaths and a person blown off a chair by an avalanche. That was a pretty extreme storm and I was really, quite frankly, blown away that ski areas were open.
“I have the utmost respect for what the ski patrols do. In these last storms, I remember driving to the mountain and thinking, I don’t know how you can go up there and stand on the hill right now, and throw a bomb, and feel like you’re not in an island of safety.
“We (Tahoe and Mammoth) got something like 65 inches, with a hundred mile-an-hour winds, in less than 48 hours. If I was sitting in a backcountry lodge somewhere during that storm, that’s the time to really dive into some card games.”
But Jones, who also owns his own line of snowboards, said he recognizes the Catch-22 ski resorts find themselves in.
“These ski areas are in a hard situation because everyone’s walking around the base, all upset that the ski area’s not open, and I think that they’re crazy.
“And I think, for example, since kids are part of different programs at the mountain, and if I were putting my kid out there, I’d put an avalanche beacon [on her]. Instead, they stay home on those kinds of days.”
In Mammoth, anyone with ears knew what the avalanche danger was every day during the “river” of storms that blew in from the Pacific, one after the other. Ski Patrol tossed bomb after bomb onto slide-prone areas, and even that wasn’t enough.
Last week during an otherwise pristine afternoon, a smallish avalanche broke loose on Climax.
No one was injured in that slide, but Jones said avalanche awareness is a good thing to have in your quiver of knowledge, even inside the boundaries of a ski area.
“In the most extreme weather events, people have to sit back and realize what we’re up against.
“At your average ski resort, if it’s open, you should be able to send your kid out there, or your parents, and you should feel like an average Joe Blow and go without a beacon.”
But to achieve those conditions, resort skiers and snowboarders need the men and women in the red jackets and white crosses.
To make things right, he said, is the work of the avalanche forecasters and the Ski Patrols at ski areas.
But the biggest of Big-Mountain snowboarders said he doesn’t want any part of it.