In adventure travel and photography circles, the name Jimmy Chin often elicits reverence, and deservedly so. Chin has built himself into a legendary photographer/filmmaker/alpinist, usually joining the athletes he shoots on adrenaline-pumping assignments like summiting Mt. Everest. He's a regular contributor to National Geographic and Outside Magazine and is sponsored by gear giant The North Face. Chin, 40, recently added another feat to his personal resume, as he and his wife welcomed daughter Marina in September. He graces the May cover of Outside and in between his trips and various projects, he took the time to share his thoughts on travel, photography, and fatherhood.
Your blog and Facebook page are full of some excellent tips and insight on adventure travel and photography. How do you find time to keep up with social media?
I find social media to be a fun way to share ideas, images, and thoughts. I'm usually checking it once or twice a day, and it's something I do on the side. There are certainly some days, weeks, or months when I am much more active and other times when I am a lot less active. It depends on how busy I am. Long plane rides also offer great opportunities to write down a few different ideas or blogs, and I post them later periodically. Did I mention I spend a lot of time on planes?
You’ve been to dozens of countries. Which three places do you find yourself most at home in the world?
I love Nepal and have been there too many times to count. Dropping into Kathmandu always feels like home. I know exactly where I am going to spend the afternoon walking around, where I am going to get Indian food or a pizza slice. I spend a lot of time in NYC, too. It feels like another country sometimes compared to my home outside Jackson, Wyoming. I love NYC; the food, the vibe, the art, and the friends I have there. And, of course, I most feel at home in the Tetons and around Jackson Hole. Standing in Tram line at Teton Village and seeing all my friends is something I treasure.
Where else do you like to hang out in Jackson?
Besides the Tram line, I spend a lot of time skiing in the winter or running trails in the summer. I'll drop into the Rose to see music or catch up with friends. Dinner parties at my house or friends' houses are common. I also like to swing into Wilson Backcountry Sports to check on conditions, what's been happening in the mountains, and the latest and greatest gear.
You’re a strong advocate for documenting trips via photos or a travel journal, and on your blog you shared a journal entry documenting one of your most harrowing experiences: surviving an avalanche in 2011. What life lessons did you take away from that?
I’m stating the obvious, but life is short. Be nice, contribute something positive to the world and people around you, [and] live with passion, because it could all be over tomorrow.
You had quite a year in 2013: In addition to your trips and film projects, you and your wife welcomed a daughter, Marina, into the world. Has becoming father made you re-evaluate how you take risks now?
I think getting older and having a lot of close calls has made me re-evaluate how I take risks and the level of risks I'm willing to take. Being responsible for another person certainly makes you think hard about your risk thresholds.
On a lighter note, do you prefer a window or aisle seat?
Window all the way!
What's in your carry-on bag?
A 15-inch MacBook Pro, Jack Black Lip Balm, a Ziplock bag with Advil, Wellness Formula, EmergenC, GoPro Hero 3+, The New Yorker, National Geographic, laptop and phone chargers, BOSE headphones, Muji notebook, .5mm Muji pen, Sharpies, Oakley Sunglasses, iPad Mini, and bag of candy or mints.
Any special travel souvenirs?
I collect knives from all over the world. They're small enough to throw in a bag to take home. I find them interesting because every culture has a unique use and take on the knife. They show something about the culture.
What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?
The best journeys are those that answer questions you never thought to ask. In other words, be ready to roll with whatever your travels and adventures throw at you. Obstacles and what may seem like setbacks are often opportunities to answer those questions you never thought to ask.
What's on the horizon for you in 2014 and beyond?
I am working on several film projects. I'm finishing a feature documentary called Meru and I am in the midst of filming on a two-year Red Bull project which I am not allowed to talk about yet, but soon (editor's note: Since this interview, Outside has reported that the film features snowboarding and is called Migration). I always have a few expeditions and photo assignments on the list of things to do, but it's usually a matter whether or not I have time to do them. I'm also loving spending time with my wife, Chai, and baby Marina. They're doing a lot of traveling with me on some of my shoots, but I definitely look forward to time with them at home.