The second episode of Jeremy Jones' "Further Unplugged" web series delivers an introduction to quite possibly the most epic shred mission undertaken last winter. If backcountry snowboarding in a polar-bear habitat, or the 190-kilometer, 30-hour approach over sea ice didn't clinch that "epic" title, then the rarefied riding partner Jones brought along on his adventure sure did.
In April, Jones connected with the legendary Viking shred Terje Haakonsen for an expedition to Svalbard, an archipelago of mountainous islands in the Arctic Circle off the coast of northern Norway. The pair of pioneers spent three weeks camped out on a glacier snowboarding lines they had climbed. The trip marked a lot of firsts. Namely, it was the first time the two had ridden together, and it was the first time Terje had ever been splitboarding. As you can imagine, some heavy first descents went down.
While waiting for the snow to fly in the Sierra Nevada, Jones spoke to ESPN about what made the trip a dream come true, despite a shaky start.
ESPN: What drew you to Svalbard?
Jones: I had heard rumors of this island with really good steeps, really close together with flat run-outs. Turned out it was all true and then some. Svalbard has amazing terrain, 24-hour sunlight, you can cross most valleys in 10 minutes, and the maritime snowpack sticks to the mountains, making for a relatively safe [avalanche] cycle. There is also a lot of glacier ice, which is key. If you don't have glaciers, you're not going to find cold pow that close to the ocean.
Getting into the mountains proved to be the catch. What made the approach such an ordeal?
The zone we wanted to ride was a 190-kilometer snowmobile ride away from the nearest town. We weren't sure how long it would take but we estimated about 10 hours. It took us 30. At the 10-hour point it started raining and a river formed in the glacier we were trying to climb up. The snow scooters kept getting stuck in the slop, so we decided to set up camp and get some sleep. When we woke up and started moving, we immediately got stuck 100 yards out of camp. It took us another eight hours to go up the glacier.
The first time I saw Terje was at the U.S. Open in 1990. I was a groveling am and he nearly won the pro halfpipe contest. I was blown away. If you had told me on the side of that pipe that in 20 years we would be riding together for the first time, filming for my movie in the Arctic Circle, I would have never believed you.
”-- Jeremy Jones
What are snow scooters?
Snow scooters are like nothing I had ever seen. They are really beefed up and geared down snowmobiles made for hauling. It's how everyone gets around, gets to work, gets everywhere in Svalbard. We were able to put two people and all our gear on each one. You're traveling on a frozen ocean so we averaged about 30 miles an hour when the ice was smooth.
What did it take to convince Haakonsen to join you on the trip?
I talked to Terje right when "Further" became a reality. He was down from day one. Over that next year I would get random calls from him from the mountain shop: "Do I need crampons? What kind of ice axe should I get?" He was new to it all but came in really gung ho.
How did he take to climbing lines with you?
Terje is an insane athlete and super fit. He had never been on a splitboard or climbed with an ice axe or crampons, but he adjusted to the climbing really well. He was running around the mountains in no time.
Had you ever ridden with him before?
No. The first time I saw Terje was at the U.S. Open in 1990. We were similar ages, but I was a groveling am and he nearly won the pro halfpipe contest. I was blown away by him. If you had told me on the side of that pipe that in 20 years we would be riding together for the first time, filming for my movie in the Arctic Circle, I would have never believed you. Every run we took on this trip I was still that little kid on the side of the pipe excited to watch him ride. He's hands down one of the best snowboarders to ever strap in. I still can't believe he was on the trip.