Jon Jean Interview – Going Big
Mountain Sledder: Where did you grow up and start riding?
Jon Jean: I was born in Montreal, then right away my family moved to Baie-Comeau, Quebec, where all my extended family is from. My Dad had sleds when I was growing up, until I was probably ten years old. I just loved it. When I was 15, we moved to Vancouver.
I did one season in Whistler, but mostly I was in Vancouver. I lived in the Burnaby area, so it was quick to get to Squamish—I could get there in like 45 minutes.
But I actually just bought a house in Revy, and this will be my fifth season here.
MS: What prompted you to make the move from the west coast to Revelstoke?
JJ: The sledding on the coast is epic. But I visited Revy and I was impressed by how good the snow stayed. The coastal snow is really good, but it’s really only good for one day after the storm and the next day it’s not so good usually. Whereas Revy will have good snow for a long time after a storm. And the terrain is comparable to Whistler. So I figured it would be a nice change. I was kind of tired of the city life too.
MS: How did you work your way up to hitting huge features?
JJ: I think the people I ride with help a lot. I’ve got a really solid crew, and I ride with a lot of different people too. Just picking up stuff from riders who I look up to, that I’ve been fortunate enough to ride with. Seeing how they do things over time, and slowly working my way up.
I don’t start on massive jumps. I’ll go warm up on something smaller and start feeling good. You’ve got to pick your jumps wisely. That’s one of the challenges.
And I pick the days when I’m going to go big. I won’t do it when [the snow] is rock-hard. I’ve had a couple of crashes where I’ve walked away from it thinking, okay, that worked out pretty good.Luckily the snow was good and I picked the right day, because it could have gone pretty bad if I hadn’t. There might only be ten days a year when I’m super confident about jumping really big. And I ride 80 days a year. I’m not sending huge jumps every day. The conditions have to be right for me to do that. I’m being smarter about it now, especially after my accident.
MS: What happened?
JJ: I’ve had injuries from things other than sledding—I’ve broken my leg twice, slipped a disc snowboarding, broken my wrist. I’ve broken lots of stuff. But the biggest injury I’ve had from sledding was a concussion from hitting my head really hard—that was worse than anything else. It happened in 2013 on a big step-down jump, and I went way too far. I got knocked out for two to five minutes—or so I’m told. I’d rather break an arm or a leg than hit my head, any day.
MS: Did you have symptoms afterwards?
JJ: I felt like I was in a fog for months. It was not good. It took me awhile to get back to jumping, trying to figure out the speeds again. When you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. But when you’re not, it’s so hard to try to get past it.
But I’m happy I did, it worked out. Even though it took me awhile to get back to doing step-down jumps, they are now my favourite kind of jumps.
MS: Do you have any advice for riders who are wanting to step up to bigger jumps?
JJ: I think the main thing is: Don’t go too fast. It’s really not that much different to hit 100’ jumps or a 40’ jump. Once you can hit a 40’ jump, and you can stay calm in the air and actually control the sled—you know, if your nose goes down, give it a bit of throttle. If it goes up, hit the brake. Once you figure that out, then you can gradually step up, move from 40’ to 50’ to 60’ and keep pushing. But I don’t recommend starting on 100-footers—work your way up.
Throwing a snowball from the takeoff is a really good trick for checking speed. Just pack a nice snowball and throw it. Depending on how hard I throw it, I’ll know how much speed I need. I know that if I’m throwing it as hard as I can and it’s barely making the landing or not even, then I’m going to need to go as fast as I can into the jump usually. It’s a little easier to judge distance that way. And I’ll usually put a couple of snowballs into the landing—they give me a spot to look at where I need to land.
“And always think of a ‘Plan B’. I go into it thinking, if I case it, what am I going to do?”
If I overshoot, will I just jump off the sled? Do I have an out? If I don’t have an out, I might rethink it.
MS: What else have you learned as you’ve gained experience over time?
JJ: This is something I was guilty of when I first started riding. You’re so stoked to get out there, no matter what—you’re going out. You’ve got these plans: I’m going to be doing this jump today. Or riding that. And you get there and conditions aren’t right, but you’re so stoked that you don’t stop to look and analyze the zone. That’s when things go wrong, I find.
Take that extra 30 seconds to stop, check it out, see what’s going on. Maybe find a nice little slope, do a cut on the slope and see how conditions are first. Take your time more. That helps a lot to prevent what can go wrong. That’s something I was totally guilty of before. It’s a learning experience.
MS: You were one of the founders of the West Coast Sledders (WCS) Facebook page, which has one of the largest mountain sledding-specific followings on social media with 40K+ followers. How did that get started?
JJ: It was our friend Mike’s idea to start West Coast Sledders. Tom [Cepek] and I had so much content accumulated together that we didn’t really know what to do with it. I was just posting it on my personal page at the time, but just getting my friends annoyed probably. [Laughs]
When WCS first started, I was actually hunting at the time, with no service. And when I got back, Tom had started the page and put up a bunch of our pictures that we had taken together and it was already over 1000 followers.
It was pretty awesome, the good old days there. Tom and I had a lot of good riding days together. We probably rode—I don’t know—sixty days a winter together back then, with full-time jobs. Just weekend warriors. We went pretty hard at it for two or three years or so, and built the page to around 30K followers. Then Mike came in and started managing it. He opened WCS up to everybody—not just me and Tom—but all sledders on the west coast.
MS: Do you have any advice for riders who are trying to build a social media presence?
JJ: It’s important for sure. I just post what I’m proud about, really. Beautiful shots, beautiful scenery—if I like it, I’ll post it up. I’m pretty critical about myself; if I see something I don’t like, I’ll just keep it for myself.
A lot of people build huge followings by posting very often; but if I don’t have anything to post, I’m not going to post. If you have more content, put it up there—that seems to work really well. But there’s a fine line, people can get tired of it if you’re posting too much.
Being consistent seems to work really well. My accounts, I try to keep mostly to sledding. I’ll post the odd thing about what I’m doing or whatever. But I think people are more interested in my sledding than what I’m doing day-to-day. Just be yourself and see how it goes!
MS: Do you have any goals you’d like to achieve this winter?
JJ: I’ve always wanted—but never really had the opportunity—to hit a freestyle ramp. [With a ramp] you can always jump the same distance, whereas in the backcountry it’s always different. So I might end up getting a short-track sled this year and get into that. Learn some tricks and stuff.
MS: Any shout-outs you’d like to make?
JJ: I’d like to thank my sponsors: Greater Vancouver Powersports, Elka Suspension, TOBE Outerwear, Highmark by Snowpulse, Cheetah Factory Racing, Somewon and West Coast Sledders. And my girlfriend, for making me lunches! [Laughs]