Wayyy back in about nineteen hundred and ninety three a few of us in Portland who dundered around playing pickup ultimate frisbee decided it was time to play in a tournament, so for reasons I don’t remember we decided to drive all the way to Sun Valley, ID for our first one. The bad news was that we quickly realized that unorganized pickup was a woeful excuse for tournament level play, but the good news was that we were eliminated quickly and thus had plenty of time to partake in the many other summertime activities that Sun Valley offers. Therefore, a way-too-large posse of folks headed up towards Stanley to do what would become the iconic Fisher Creek mountain bike loop.
The gaggle went off as a big group spinning up the flat valley with tons of chatting, since there were a good handful of new connections; Michele Grey (nee Martin) introduced me to her geeky younger brother Scott and her younger brother’s friends; Jeremy and a cute young lass named Ashley Patterson. Over the next hour or so the group near the front started to thin as people warmed up and the pace picked up a bit . At the time I was racing my bike a lot (too much) and had some good fitness, and eventually it was just Jeremy and I noodling along (no doubt Scott coulda been there too but he was more polite/social than I was). We did a little of the “what do you do?” chat and Jeremy simply said he was a ski racer; little did I know that he’d been on the US ski team since he was 16 and was bound for the Olympics as the most successful US skier since the Mahre brothers. At the moment, though, I was wondering how a ski racer could so effortlessly be chatting away and putting the hurt to me on the climb. The Fisher Creek double track kicks pretty hard over the last maybe three quarters of a mile or so to the pass and Jeremy equally-effortlessly left me far behind. When I summited I kinda gasped out something admiring at his riding, and he just said something along the lines of “I like to stay in shape for skiing.”
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve kinda landed in Salt Lake while Jeremy has indeed become an Olympian who by then had eschewed the regimented ski racer life and had gotten intrigued by more adventurous skiing. He had gone to Alaska and was trying to establish himself as a ski movie guy with Teton Gravity Research, and when a heli dropped him off on top of – I believe – Pyramid Peak he basically bagged the little dinky hop turns concept and fired the whole thing at about a hundred miles an hour. They called it “The Turn” and that run essentially changed skiing; this quick clip is a great summary of it. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=10154043059559092
In the meantime, Jeremy continued to “stay in shape for skiing” by riding his mountain bike, and eventually entered and did well against some of the best in the sport in a handful of races. One day he hopped on his bike in Canyonlands by himself and charged around the 100 mile White Rim in just over 6 hours, a time that stood for two decades until Andy Dorais went just under 6 hours in 2016.
I reconnected with Jeremy shortly after I arrived in Utah as he was being kind of a Pied Piper leading a big posse around Snowbird on a big powder day, including – finally! – my new girlfriend Ashley. Since that memorable day in Alaska he’d indeed become a ski movie star, earned the nickname of “The Icon”, and had become kind of the archetype gnarly skier dood: traveling a lot, skiing insane lines, being pretty brash, getting paid handsomely for it all, and partying hard. That day at the ‘Bird I inexplicably chose to be on a snowboard and was struggling to keep up a bit, but he didn’t give a shit and was kind enough to wait for me as necessary, though I do remember him asking with a laugh “Why the fuck didn’t you bring your skis?” Shortly thereafter Dynastar introduced the Jeremy Nobis signature ski, which was one of the original kinda big mountain ripper skis and had a super cool, clean graphic reminiscent of a surfboard that he helped design:
and – probably remembering me flailing on a snowboard – he gave me a pair. I was super psyched, because, hey, like a lot of wannabes I too wanted to be a Big Mountain Ripper guy like Jeremy Nobis! As it turned out, I pretty much wasn’t burly enough to bring those skis around and I wasn’t really going to Valdez to blast down huge spine lines, so they didn’t last long in my quiver.
I bumped into Jeremy a coupla times after that, and was always impressed at – as Ashley says – just how nice he was; it seemed like as much as he was trying to be a bad boy ski god, his generally-nice-guy persona kept coming through!
But being any icon – much less The Icon – comes with a price, and over the years I heard from Scott and our good mutual pal Chuck List that Jeremy was struggling; the fun partying with fellow extreme ski pals had evolved into pretty solid drinking, bad DUI’s, etc. And tragically, it ended a week ago when he was found dead in a jail cell awaiting sentencing for another DUI.
I have often wondered about how these sports icons who are so glorified in their prime – whether by ski movie makers, fleeting Olympic success, etc – deal with the loss of all that adulation they have become accustomed to, and the answer unfortunately many times is that it’s painfully difficult and debilitating, and now there’s actually A Thing known as post-athletic depression. I now feel fortunate that I have never really been good enough at anything to be depressed that I was no longer good!
There’s a lot of chatter on the interwebs about Jeremy now and how he changed skiing and partied super hard and fell on hard times, but what I remember most is how amazing he was on a mountain bike – an activity pretty different from high level ski racing – and mostly that even as The Icon of extreme skiing he was still just a super nice guy.