It was a classic movie-making scenario: One of the stars bails out during production and the new kid gets his shot at a role and comes up big.
In this case, it was the latest Teton Gravity Research film “Far Out” presented by REI, and the new kid really is just a kid, Kai Jones, only 11 at the time.
Kai is the son of Todd Jones, co-founder of TGR. The family lives in Victor. Over the years, Kai has followed his dad around the Tetons and made friends with pro skiers. His father had shot footage of his son doing several impressive things on skis. So when a pro skier bailed on his part in the movie featuring Jackson Hole skiing, Todd Jones offered his son to fill the spot. The movie was released this fall.
“I wasn’t supposed to be in the movie but then a crazy thing happened,” Kai said. “This guy completely bailed out on a shoot and they weren’t able to film. My dad when he was in a (boardroom strategy) meeting says ‘Well me and Kai have been filming all winter.’ So they said, ‘OK, we’ll give him a shot.’ ”
The film plays off his young age. He’s refused a ticket for a PG-13 movie and kicked out of a Jackson Hole bar after ordering a grilled cheese sandwich. Then he heads into the mountains to tear it up on skis.
“I thought it was a super cool experience because I got to ski all around Jackson with pros and they showed me the way,” Kai said. “Then I got to see all our work for the season on the big screen.”
Kai, who is now 12, said he saw the movie in Driggs with his friends just before Halloween. “They thought it was super cool,” he said.
One of Kai’s big stunts in the film was jumping off a super steep run called Smart Bastard — involving an iconic leap with at least 35 feet of air in the out-of-bounds area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Kai did the run with his hero, pro skier Tim Durtschi of Utah. Getting to the Smart Bastard was part of the adventure.
“It was actually pretty hard,” Kai said. “We had to do this super exposed hike up to this couloir. Then we had to slowly sidestep down to like the main face so we wouldn’t avalanche anything. Tim encouraged me a lot. Tim went before me, mainly to help me.”
Kai’s segment in the film can be seen on YouTube at https://youtu.be/FP6AN1hQ6B4.
“He’s really the real deal,” said Eric Henderson of Meteorite PR, a company promoting the film for TGR.
Kai’s father agrees. “He’s pretty legit on any level regardless of his age,” Todd Jones told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
To add to Kai’s fame, he also excelled this spring at the IFSA Junior North American U12 championship, taking first place. The invitation-only freeride competition held at Snowbird, Utah, featured 700 skiers.
“You’re on this huge steep face with huge cliffs — the judges are judging you on your turning ability, your style, tricks, lines,” Kai said. “It takes a lot of study beforehand.”
Kai is also an A student at Teton Middle School in Driggs, serves on the student council, plays on a soccer team, the track team and joins regional rock climbing competitions. He climbed the Grand Teton at age 10.
“I’m going to go climbing now to prepare for a competition,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Kai has big goals for the future. His family plans to ski in Alaska and Europe this winter and he’d like to win the Freeride World Tour. It helps that he lives close to the Tetons.
“The Tetons are like an amazing place to train and learn and it’s helped create the skier that I am,” he said.