Jimmy Chin Weighs In

Skiing Mount Everest, filming with Sherpas, and the $500-or-something photo that changed his life

Travel all over the world to ski and climb and capture beautiful photos, we all want to be Jimmy Chin. PHOTO: Jimmy Chin Collection

Travel all over the world to ski and climb and capture beautiful photos, we all want to be Jimmy Chin. PHOTO: Jimmy Chin Collection

Words: Shelby Carpenter

Jimmy Chin’s work has never been for the faint of heart.

As an athlete sponsored by The North Face, Chin can carve and shred with the best of them. In 2006, he took part in the first American ski descent of Everest with Kit DesLauriers—and not only skied the mountain, but served as expedition photographer documenting the entire thing. He’s also one of the co-founders of Camp 4 Collective, a film production company for mountain athletes by mountain athletes, and works as a photographer for National Geographic on the side.

Most recently, Chin and others at Camp 4 joined forces with Sherpas Cinema to create Into The Mind, one of the most mind-bending ski films of the season. Read on as Chin shares the secrets of his process, and what else we can expect from Sherpas and Camp 4 in the future.

POWDER: You started as an athlete, but then moved in to filming and photographing your adventures. What made you decide to start documenting what you do?

Chin: I never studied photography. But a friend of mine was an aspiring photographer. He handed me his camera in Yosemite one day and showed me how to use it.

Later that month he was trying to sell some of those photos, and this company bought only one, and it was the one that I took. My friend was totally jealous. I got paid $500 or something. At the time I was living out of my car and $500 would pay for months of living on the road, climbing, and skiing. So I figured I could only take one photo a month and do this for the rest of my life.

What was it like to ski Mount Everest?

I’d already been to Everest before in 2002 and 2004. Then, in 2006, Kit DesLauriers asked if I wanted to go with her and her husband, Rob DesLauriers, to the south side of the mountain. By that point, I had spent many years obsessing about it—when I was climbing it in 2004, I’d look and go, “that section looks skiable, that other section looks skiable.” It was one of those outrageous goals that sounds completely impossible. Those goals are my favorite.

Jimmy Chin summited and skied Mount Everest in 2006. PHOTO: Jimmy Chin

Jimmy Chin summited and skied Mount Everest in 2006 with Kit and Rob DesLauriers. PHOTO: Jimmy Chin

Once I was on Everest again, the hardest part was definitely skiing the Lhotse Face, because just the day before we had summited and skied back to camp four. So the next day you’re totally annihilated, and dropping into a 5,000-foot face of 50-degree no-fall-zone skiing at 26,000 feet. And then you get down, and you’re all alive. It’s incredible.

When you’re on a trip, how do you balance being a member of the team with your role as more of an outsider documenting the team?

It can be really difficult to get a shot on ski expeditions. Sometimes you’re hauling a sled or a bunch of other shit. You have to prepare ahead of time, often times you need to be faster, be out in front of everyone. If you take four seconds longer to drink your water, then all of the sudden you’re in the back of the group, but often you want to be at the front of the group to get the shot. Shooting upward at the back of people is usually not as interesting or beautiful as shooting down towards people’s faces with a huge vista or peak in the background.

So it’s about being hyper-efficient with everything you do. Where are your memory cards? Where are your batteries? You have to be super dialed, because that extra moment is often the difference between getting the shot and not getting the shot.

How did you get involved with filming Into The Mind?

I’d known [Sherpas directors] Dave Mossop and Eric Crosland for a while—they were friends in the industry and really creative. Into The Mind was really Dave and Eric’s brainchild, and they wanted to bring Camp 4 in to help with the Nepal sections, just because we’re very familiar with that area, that space, and the people.

The old Sherpa that is threaded throughout the film was someone that [Camp 4 co-founder] Renan Ozturk and I had known for many years, so we brought him to the table. And then there were certain sections where we’re climbing the mountain—the metaphorical ultimate mountain—and they just wanted to show more the sense of ski mountaineering, so we worked with them on co-producing that segment.

There’s that scene in Into The Mind where your partner—the skier in purple—drops down and gets caught in an avalanche? So… That actually happened?

The wipeout scene in the film was real. It was one of the worst crashes any of the guys from the Sherpas had ever witnessed. So they put it in the film to ask the question: Just what are people willing to risk to do what they do?

Tell us about what you’re working on next? Will you do more with Sherpas in the future?

I’m working on a feature documentary with Renan Ozturk about this expedition that we did to the Shark’s Fin in Northern India in the Garhwal Himalayas. Really it’s a story about risk, sacrifice, and friendship.

We did a short cut of this for Reel Rock, but it didn’t get into a whole lot of the real backstory of what was going on. So this will be a feature documentary. The goal is to take a core adventure film out to the mainstream audience. It’s hard to do. You have to have a lot of elements to make that happen… Mainly a really compelling story. It helps if it is beautifully shot.

And yes, we do collaborate with a lot of different production companies, like Brain Farm and Sherpas. There are some pretty great projects coming up that I’m not allowed to talk about yet… Stay tuned!

Jimmy Chin helped Sherpas Cinema with Into The Mind, which is nominated for Movie of the Year at the 14th Annual POWDER Awards on Friday, December 6 at the Depot in Salt Lake City. Find out more details about tickets and the show at PowderAwards.com.

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Add a comment

  • John

    kind of a misleading title….

  • Jay Tierney

    So who was the skier that wiped out?

    • David Wells

      callum petit i think?

  • skiierman

    Who knew a film that’s contains 15% of skiing content would be nominated for ski movie of the year… what a joke.

    • David Wells

      You have no idea what it takes to get the quality and story that these guys made. maybe you do, I am not here to talk shit but… put your t tall and doo-rag back on and go back to your cul-de-sac

      • skiierman

        David- I said nothing about the quality of shots… you haven’t watched it yet, have you? It doesn’t matter how good something is shot because it can always be ruined by the morons at the editing table. I suggest you watch the “ski” movie before commentating on it. It was horrible and my opinion is hardly in the minority from people who do know what they’re talking about. You’d see the same reaction from any sport if a company wasted this much time and effort into a film only to show off their directing/editing skills rather than the skiing itself. After all, what is a ski movie without any actual skiing in it? If you really do care about skiing, you’ll hate this film. The only reason it won best ski film at IF3 is because the judges, and I quote, “wanted to be different for once”. That’s pathetic. Now please use some critical thinking skills for once and realize the difference from hating how they edited and presented skiing from the skills needed to shoot it. It’s a SKI film first and foremost. Good lord. And good job trying to not talk shit but then doing so in the next sentence… with many false assumptions I might add… so here are some of my own… Please stick with WME film premieres so you can get free tickets to Deer Valley. We don’t need your kind. Fuck off.

        • Doug Phillips

          Not too sure you speak for all skiers. Been skiing since 1981 and started working in ski shops in 1989. Been watching ski movies since then and working in the shops back then saw more movies than you could ever want. So after 3 decades of seeing ski movies I see nothing wrong with and frankly applaud the production of “Into the Mind” b/c it is a film about skiing not a ski film. I think the older you get and the longer you have been skiing you appreciate things like that more than just repetitive segments of bros skiing big lines, hitting kickers, and jibbing in the suburbs – how much more played out can something be? I respect your opinion and would not have responded until I saw the comment “by people that know what they are talking about”. Must be amazing to be as dialed in to the scene as you bro??????

          • skiierman

            You’re right, I only represent the skiers that actually know what makes a good film or not, brooooo. This is clearly the first film you’ve seen that broke the traditional formula of ski movies… or possibly any action sport. I can’t blame you for being completely ignorant to the fact that the best received movies of any action sport displays awesome editing and filming, balanced with (now this part is tricky so pay attention) top notch riding indicative to the sport. You may have been watching ski films your whole life but that doesn’t mean you understand what you’re watching. It’s evident that you’d rather watch filmers blowing themselves than to enjoy actual skiing content. But hey, that was cute how you felt the need to spew out your “credentials” because that’s usually what gapers do. “I worked in a ski shop a lot so that means I KNOW skiing”. Haha, yup, sure.

          • yeahbro

            ^^^ And that one band totally sucks now that they are famous too huh? haha

          • Doug Phillips

            When you start working in a shop as a kid you watch videos all day until you have seen them a hundred times. I said that to demonstrate that I have seen ski films for 30 years. Was nothing to do with ski credentials? You made a narrowminded comment so to counter it I felt it necessary to explain where I am coming from. Do you need me to tell you I was ripping 204 Kastles when I was 13 in stretch pants????? What good is that? We are both behind a computer screen. That being said you are just as full of crap as anyone behind a screen and anyone reading this knows it too. Opinions are like a holes – everyone has one.

  • jsprigman

    Great athlete and a class act. Jimmy took the time to interact with my kids at the Into the Mind premiere in NYC this year. The sport needs more accomplished athletes like Jimmy to help stoke the next generation. Keep up the great work Jimmy we’ll be cheering you on.

  • himals92 .

    It’s Chomolungma or Sagarmatha not f-n Mt. everest! Wish you people would give some respect to the locals and not some British dude who never got within a hundred miles of her.

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