In March 2017, O’Neill took 10 winners from the O’Neill x Jones competition, Walk For Powder, on a backcountry trip of a lifetime. Their prize was to hike and ride the California Sierras with snowboard legend and O’Neill team rider Jeremy Jones and a handful of the most outstanding backcountry guides in the US.
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The crew of 7 men and 3 women had been plucked from over 15 thousand entrants and came from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and the US. They were made up of four skiers and six snowboarders, all with very different levels of expertise in backcountry riding and splitboarding. Over the next five days they would be tested to their limits in Squaw and the backcountry of the Sierras, hiking virgin lines in one of the biggest winter to hit in years
As they drove from Reno to their first stop, Squaw Valley, the severity of the winter was starkly evident, with five metre walls of snow towering above the approach roads like lines of seamless white skyscrapers. According to Jeremy there hadn’t been a winter like it in a long time, with the ground floor of his home in Squaw cast into complete darkness by the 3metre sea of snow that lapped around his house. “We’ve had about 30feet of snow so far this year,” said Jeremy of the conditions. “Coming off the back of a bunch of really low years it is extra special”.
The resort had been closed for two days before the crew arrived, as a storm swept through depositing yet another thick blanket of powder. And when the lifts did open on their first morning in town Squaw’s powder hounds were out in force, queuing for 2 hours at the famous KT22 lift to catch the freshies. Thankfully, early there was plenty to go around but within two hours it was all tracked.
Riding Squaw a great way for the winners to get their powder pistons working and helped to focus their minds for an evening of gear checks and alpine hazard clinics with snowboard pioneer Jim Zellers and local superstar guides Glen & Zeb from Alpenglow. The following morning they would be heading into the real mountains and Jeremy’s favourite playground in the Sierras and would need all their wits about them.
Jeremy isn’t the type of rider you find lapping lifts. His love of snowboarding is born beyond the resort ropes in the wide-open backcountry. “It’s not that I don’t like people,” explains Jeremy, with a laugh. “It’s that I like my snowboarding with no-one else around”. And it was this take on snowboarding in the Sierras that Jeremy really wanted to share with the crew. He would hiking them out to the Benson Hut, high on the Sierra Crest.
“We had a full powder frenzy which is fun to do,” said Jeremy of Squaw. “But the trip to Sugar Bowl really shows why I do so much splitboarding: To come out to this beautiful spot and have it all to ourselves and ride new lines every time”.
It would take Jeremy and the team 2 hours to hike up to where the hut was meant to be only to find that it had disappeared under the 60foot of snow that had fallen over the season. Using 2.4 metre probes the finally discovered the chimney, before 10 of them dug down to reach the roof in 2 hours. The hut is design to be accessed through an A-frame window just under the eves of the roof, through which they could climb into the dark recess of the hut. This would be their home for the next two days.
The Benson hut is the real deal, with only a log burner and sleeping bags on mats as luxuries, beside the beer and food shipped in by the guides. But the hut provides the most amazing access to the surround peaks and after digging down to their digs and dropping of the gear it was time to test out the splitboards and hike the powder runs of Anderson’s peak.
“It is a big hut, at least 20 feet tall,” explained Jeremy with a laugh.
“It was the first time I had to probe for a building.”
Hut life at Benson’s.
It had warmed up a little but there was still powder to be slashed, with no need to double team tracks, as the crew were the only ones out in Sugar Bowl. “It is life changing stuff out here,” said Jeremy looking back on the days riding. “And you can see it on all these peoples’ faces regardless of their ability level”.
For most in the crew this was their first experience of splitboarding but the ability to access virgin lines under their own steam, would forever change their view of riding. “It was my first time splitboarding,” said Tyler, one of the comp winners from Colorado. “But it opened up my world to what can be done on a snowboard simply.” Tyler had been riding for over 20 years. “I have definitely converted some new splitboarders after today,” Jeremy said, his smile bright like a flash of light in the darkness of his panda tan.
The crew woke early to a perfect blue bird and a busy day of hiking and shredding pristine lines. There were endless options to choose from and although the sun and rising temperatures had taking some of the lift out of the snow the guides were more than willing to share their slope aspect knowledge to find the light powder stashes.
For some, like Sofie and Catherine from Belgium, this was their first experience of backcountry riding. But again Glen, a guide with a ton of first descents under his belt, showed them how to take full advantage of this backcountry paradise. Four runs were squeeze into the day, although the fatigue of hiking lines forced some to head for the hut after three, while the hardy dropped sun set lines.
The following day was their last in country but there was just time for one last blast before riding out to the real world. For all concerned, this backcountry adventure had been a life changing experience, not only because of the off the hook conditions but also because they had got to ski a zone unlike any they had ridden before and learn from the legend Jeremy Jones.
For Jeremy’s part it was a pleasure to introduce the winners to a brand new aspect of riding; one that puts a demand on the resources of the individual rather than those of the planet. “It has been really fun to introduce them to this whole new part of snowboarding that is really special to me,” he said, sitting on the lip of snow above the Benson Hut. “I can’t get enough of (splitboarding) and its cool to see how fired up these guys are on it”.
“It was like a dream to meet Jeremy Jones,” said competition winner Dominic, from Austria. “I have watched so many movies of him and can’t believe I am here riding with him”.
The O’Neill Walk For Powder competition had more than 12.000 registrations from allover Europe and Northamerica and was run in collaboration with some of our key retail partners Blue Tomato, Sport Scheck, Jelmoli Sport, Perry Sport and AS Adventure.