Friendship Under Pressure
Jeremy Jones thinks about the avalanche that nearly killed him all the time. He relives it, rethinks the situation that led up to it, and replays the aftermath in his head. But that’s all part of the healing process.
“it’s a big process for me,” he says. “There’s a lot of emotions and feelings that I need to work through and check off … I dissect this thing every day in some form, you know … it was certainly the biggest impact in my life that I’ve had, probably ever.”
The day of the avalanche, which happened last season in the backcountry of Utah’s Uinta Mountains, began as a fun day of cat-boarding with friends, photographers, and filmmakers. It was pounding snow, the best powder he’d ever ridden, and he was spending it with some of his best friends.
He tells the story of the avalanche, which happened on the third cat run of the day, with a surprising frankness. It’s as if reliving the event helps him to put it in perspective.
“It was unreal snow,” he says. “We were just losing our minds when we got to the bottom, and then we’re just like, hey, another run … so I hit the cliff, landed, did a quick little tumble, and then right back to my feet … I just start cutting across this bowl, and I just hear this crack … like thunder and lightning, just right over the top of your head, like your hair stands up sound.
“I knew instantly what it was, before the sound was even over. I’m seeing the ripples instantly, and it’s just pristine, the most gorgeous snow you’ve ever seen turn to the most terrifying snow you’ve ever seen, like that.
“So then I’m in the snow and it takes me over this roller … the rest of the slide comes over my head, and then that’s when I hit the tree. Just right between my legs, square between the bindings, the slide pinches, breaks the board and then also stands me up and just slams me against the tree and kind of knocks me out.
“I woke up and it’s just the avalanche debris. I mean, that quick. So I’m only buried thighs down, I can feel something’s up … I’m kind of dizzy and shook and panicked and kind of looking around. I’m seeing people, and it’s a little foggy.”
And that’s when his friends showed up, his good friends, who he calls his ‘foxhole buddies’ came and dug him out. And that’s when he knew that “death was off the table.” But that’s also when he realized that his legs were broken.
Fast-forward past riding a board as a sled to the waiting snowcat, past that snowcat breaking down, past his friend running for cell phone service to call for help, past the helicopter that air-lifted him to the hospital, past the surgery. As Jeremy sat in his hospital bed, his thoughts were of the friends that saved his life, how seeing them go into action rescuing him was one of the moments that will stand out in his memory for a lifetime.
It’s the thoughts of his friends in action that helps him cope with the aftermath of this traumatic experience. He recalls the avalanche often, which is part of his healing process. “I just need to deal with it,” he says, “as much as I don’t want to … I work on it every day, different parts of it.”
He also writes. Writing down his experience is both cathartic and emotional, and he works on it often. “I have half of it written down,” he says, “but I can barely write it down, because when I write I go into more detail, more emotions. My eyes fill up with tears and I can’t write anymore.
“I’ve had like ten sit-downs and I’m a page and a half into it, and I’m not even to the top of the hill yet. We’re still just punching trail and kind of describing personalities. I really want to get it done, but it’s a process. It’s going to be a minute.”
Part of his healing process has been getting back on a board, which he did a mere three months after the incident. “I strapped in,” he says. “The hike up was excruciating. I took one run that was maybe 500 feet. I unstrapped and I couldn’t even walk to the car because it was just, the hike took me out. But I was like, ‘check’ I snowboarded again.’ I couldn’t do anything other than the run … but it was awesome.”
He looks toward this season with excited anticipation: “It’s going to be different to ride powder again, to look at powder and not feel the mountain move.”
Despite his intensely traumatic near-death avalanche experience, Jeremy looks at it with an almost fondness, and that’s because of how his friends reacted in a trying time, and how it has brought them closer together. He’s even said that he’d do it over again, just to re-watch his buddies react in the way they did.
“I honestly wouldn’t mind reliving it, knowing I’m coming out okay,” he says. “But to see those guys work, just to watch it again in real time … watch it without a foggy eye, watch my friends just ruling.”