PROFILE: Jeremy Johndrow

by Dawne Belloise

Jeremy Johndrow figured out his life’s calling when he started guiding, which led him to start his jeep touring business, JJ’s Jeeps. He recalls his struggles after college to find his path in the world. He even tried moving to the city a couple of times and wound up in Denver doing construction for half a year and then Nashville where he only lasted three months before realizing, “I’m not a city person. I’m a mountain guy. I learned enough about the real world that I didn’t want any part of it.” So he moved to Crested Butte and started doing what his passion dictated with the hope of spreading the passion of the outdoors to others. And he is doing it through his business of providing jeep tours to people who might not otherwise truly experience the real Colorado outdoors. That, he hopes, will make those people passionate about the environment and the specialness of the backcountry.

This year’s touring season is still ongoing, he tells, and fall is one of his busiest seasons. This summer saw large numbers of tourists in town and Jeremy says, “People wanted to see wildflowers and we teamed up with the Wildflower Festival this year for tours. It was their first time offering jeep tours since 2017 and it was wildly popular. We sold out all the tour events.” He also teamed up with geologist Dr. Amy Ellwein to offer geology tours and says, “People loved it, and it was quite popular.”

And best of all, Jeremy feels he’s not only getting paid to do what he loves but, “There’s no better way to inspire someone to protect nature than to take them out in it to experience the splendor first-hand.” Jeremy considers himself a steward of the land and an environmentalist. “I care deeply about the health of nature, but it is also critical that we preserve our precious public lands, because that is why people visit the Gunnison valley and our economy depends on people doing so. Many would consider it hypocritical since I drive around a 4×4, burning fossil fuels all day in the mountains. While I certainly won’t look you in the eye and tell you it’s good for the environment, it’s not as bad as one would think and definitely has the least amount of negative impact of all the motorized activities one can do in the mountains. Street-legal vehicles have stricter emissions standards than OHVs, plus my Jeeps are virtually silent and travel much slower down the trails than dirt bikes or ATVs, causing less erosion. While I do my best to reduce JJ’s Jeeps’ impact on the environment, the most important thing we do is act as a platform for educating people. My clients learn about a variety of issues, both local and global.”

Jeremy grew up in Lebanon, New Hampshire on a beautiful, small horse farm with his mom. It’s where his love for nature and the outdoors blossomed, “We had 25 acres and apple orchards that backed up to a nature preserve with trails, so I grew up tromping around the woods. It was an enormous backyard for a kid,” but trails and bikes connected him with neighborhood friends. “That’s how I got into mountain biking.”

He started skiing when he was three years old on small, local slopes. “There was a poma lift to the three runs and it was about two miles from my house,” he says of the town-owned area that had snowmaking and night skiing. “It was affordable at $3 for night skiing and $6 for the entire day. I still ski and it’s literally why I moved to CB.”

In high school, Jeremy was very active in sports. “I was a nerdy jock,” he confesses. “I played football, Nordic ski raced, and did track and field in the spring.” He graduated in 2004 and was determined to move west and be a ski bum, having been inspired by a Warren Miller film in his youth. 

He looked into various liberal arts colleges in small towns, and discovered Western Colorado University (WCU) as a competitive Nordic skier. “I literally Googled it in 2002 and by the time I made it out here I was more into riding chairlifts and drinking beer than I was Nordic racing,” he laughs. Jeremy decided to take a gap year first and was hired as a liftie at Alta ski resort in Utah. It was his first time living and skiing out west and that year dumped 700 inches of glorious white snow.

Traveling back home to New Hampshire that spring, he came through Gunnison, which didn’t impress him much with its low sage covered hills. “But then I drove to Crested Butte and was absolutely awestruck. I thought, if this is 40 minutes down the road from Gunnison, I can go to WCU.” He arrived at the WCU dorms in August of 2005. The wilderness-based orientation, a 5-day backpacking trip before school started, took him up Cement Creek and Hunter Hill. “It was an awesome experience, and I met a great bunch of friends right off the bat who I’m still friends with to this day. I immediately fell in love with this valley. I felt this is the place.” Jeremy double majored in business and outdoor recreation with an emphasis in ski resort management and a minor in environmental science and graduated in 2010. 

 Throughout college, Jeremy worked at the popular Gunnison restaurant, The Trough, a job set up for him by a New Hampshire friend who had also attended WCU. He tells that there weren’t a lot of ski area management jobs available when he graduated because of the 2008 recession, so he went into property management and, eventually, construction. In 2013, he started his own handyman business called JJ’s Property Maintenance and Construction. For six winters starting in 2011, he also led snowmobile tours up Kebler Pass. ”I realized I was actually a good guide,” he says.

Jeremy had been introduced to four-wheeling in college, exploring all the vast public lands with his friends. “I bought my first jeep in June 2006, right after my freshman year. It was a great way to get out and explore and find out where all these roads go.” After chatting with the U.S. Forest Service he determined that local jeep guiding would be a good business. At the end of 2019, Jeremy did an incubator program with ICE LAB at WCU (a boot camp for entrepreneurs starting up new businesses), attended first aid and CPR classes and applied for his guiding permit in February of 2020. “There’s a lot to the application and quite a bit of paperwork involved. It’s not easy.”

And then COVID hit one month later. The Forest Service reached out to ask if he wanted to push the application until next year. “But I wanted to get started as soon as possible.” Jeremy got a temporary permit, which is required for the first few years before you can apply for the 10-year priority permit. “I wanted to get that going ASAP and figured COVID would only last through the summer. Well, that wasn’t the case… Even though CB was busy by the following Memorial Day and the public lands were busy because it’s what people could do at distance, not a lot of people wanted to ride in a jeep,” he recalls. He did take about two dozen people out that first season. While he didn’t make any money, Jeremy felt it was good practice to figure out his routes and timing. The business has grown consistently since then. By 2022, he reached the cap of permitted people at 200. This spring, he was granted the 10-year priority permit. Jeremy currently employs three guides.

In the fall, when the leaf peepers come to town to view the spectacular golden display, Jeremy’s business booms. “It’s a beautiful time to visit CB because it’s less crowded and the weather is really nice. I take people where the foliage is best and cater the tours to each client’s request. Some have certain sites they want to see, some want to get extreme and some don’t,” he says. However, he emphasizes, “I avoid Kebler during foliage season because anyone can go there in a car. I will escape the crowds and go to places that cars can’t go for the beautiful foliage. The places to go for the best foliage change every day with the climate due to elevation. Up high, the leaves are going  to change first and that determines when the leaves are peaking.”

Jeremy loves the sense of community he finds in Crested Butte and the access to the outdoors. “I get to share my passion for this valley. I love history, I love geology and I love jeeps. I’ve been a gearhead since I was a little kid and I’m a good mechanic. I’ve been wrenching on cars since I could drive them and when you’re driving mountain roads things can definitely break.” 

Jeremy’s tours are an opportunity for him to educate people on a variety of issues that are important to him, from climate change to beetle kill to the importance of the sage grouse, wolf reintroduction and even the local housing issues.

“When my clients see the mountains up close and personal, they fall in love with them and it’s easier to get them to care about the environment. Older, or less physically-able people can’t hike, bike or climb mountains and it’s a great way for them to get out and experience the backcountry again and see the beautiful sights of nature. The majority of my clients are older people who have the time and want to get out and do things, but their bodies aren’t what they were. I’m doing what I love and where I love and you’re showing people these sights and they’re just awestruck. It’s a nice reminder of how lucky we are to live in this beautiful place.”

For more info, visit his website at jjsjeeps.com 

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