There’s a strange thing that happens when you look at one of Jimmy Chin’s photographs. Chin is one of the world’s top adventure photographers and filmmakers, so naturally a viewer’s eye initially gravitates toward Chin’s subject, whether it’s a skier peering over the edge of a mammoth cliff or a rock climber ascending an even mammoth-er slab of granite. But if you stay with the image awhile and let it roll around in your brain like a pebble in a river, eventually you start to think about not just what the athlete is doing, but what Chin himself needed to do to capture that image.
That’s when you realize that not only is Chin an incredible lensman, but a remarkable athlete in his own right.
In an age when there are Instagram accounts like @youdidnotsleepthere that lampoon outdoorsy photos whose sole reason for existence is “for the ‘Gram,” Chin remains resolutely the real deal. He is a photographer for august publications like National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. He directed and produced the documentary Meru, which was shown at Sundance and told the tale of Chin and his fellow climbers quest to summit a Himalayan mountain that had stymied countless others.
Because he has “been there, done that,” Chin is also a great guy to talk to about travel. The man spends about half the year on the road. But his is not some Clooney-esque, Up In The Air existence of faceless conference rooms. When Chin goes somewhere, it’s usually to do something awesome.
Hell, even when he’s dividing time between the two places he calls home—Jackson, Wyoming and New York City—he’s doing something awesome. “My work is kind of all-encompassing. It’s always work and pleasure,” he says. “I was just in Yosemite for a week. I was filming for five of those days. But then I also went personally climbing for two days as well. It’s quote-unquote training because I’m still a professional skier and climber. I also had a lot of powder days [skiing] this winter. I’m calling those training days, but they were really fun training days.”
Hearing Chin talk, it’s hard not be jealous of the life he’s created for himself. So, in keeping with the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, we decided to ask Chin for his top three spring travel destinations, complete with his insider tips on activities to do, restaurants to eat at and must-see things to check out.
NEW YORK CITY
Chin’s wife and kids are based in New York, so he spends about one week a month in the city. For someone who spends so much time in wild spaces, the city provides a nice balance.
What To Do: “Normally, I’m in the mountains. Here, I actually go to a gym and run around Central Park,” Chin says. He also manages to do some climbing at The Cliffs, an indoor climbing gym in Long Island City. “You can definitely get strong there. And if you want to learn how to climb, it’s a great place to do it.”
What To Eat: “Food in general in the city is ridiculous.” Chin eats out most of the time when he’s in New York. Some of the places that Chin frequents around Manhattan are the Jamaican restaurant Miss Lilys in Greenwich Village, the traditional Chinese restaurant Peking Duck House in midtown and the farm-to-table RedFarm on the Upper West Side.
What To See: One of the things that attracts Chin to New York is that it is a cultural and intellectual hub. Checking out films at the Tribeca Film Festival is one of his favorite things to do in the spring. When we spoke, he had just seen the premiere of Citizenfour director Laura Poitras’s new documentary Risk the night before. He’s established a network of friends in the city who help him find more under-the-radar events. “There used to be this underground boxing party in Bushwick that was really fun with good music.” But he’s also just as likely to check out a Broadway show like the ever-popular Hamilton.
“I’ve been based in Jackson for almost 20 years, and being somebody that loves the mountains, having access to the whole Teton range as my backyard is really incredible,” says Chin. But as great as the adventure opportunities are, the vibe of the Wyoming mountain town is an equally important part of the attraction.
What To Do: “Spring is kind of a transitional season, but it’s the best season for ski mountaineering [technical climbing up the mountain and skiing down].” Towards the end of the spring is when the mountain biking, trail running and fly fishing really gets going. “There’s tons of great mountain biking trails off Teton Pass,” Chin says. And for an epic mountain adventure, he suggests hiring Exum Mountain Guides to help you climb the Grand Teton peak.
What To Eat: “A popular joint to hang out is Teton Thai. You’re likely to see Travis Rice or Brian Iguchi or any number of pro skiers or snowboarders grabbing dinner after a big day.” Chin recommends the barbecue pork with sticky rice. For sushi, Sudachi is his go-to. They do a great job with all the traditional sushi dishes, but also have a surf and turf roll that he loves.
What To See: Jackson has a cultural scene that is richer than you’d expect from a typical mountain town. “Depending on what your flavor is, keep an eye on what’s happening at the Center for the Arts. Concerts are usually at The Rose.” Once the weather gets nice, one of the best things about Jackson is the abundance of outdoor concerts and music festivals.
As much as Chin enjoys climbing and skiing, they are still, in a sense, work. Surfing is something he does purely for fun. Chin has been visiting Sayulita on the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico for more than 10 years. “It’s quick and easy and the lineups are fairly manageable,” he says. “I’ve been part of that community for so long and I have a lot of friends there.” While the once-sleepy surf town no longer qualifies as “undiscovered,” it still maintains a little bit of an edge, which he appreciates.
What To Do: Surfing is the name of the game in Sayulita. No matter what level you are, you can find a fun break. Chin says the Tigre Surf School, which is run by a good friend of his, is a good place to start. For more experienced surfers, there are other great waves nearby that require a little more exploring to find. Chin has discovered some of them, but keeping with the surfer’s code, “of course I’m not going to name them.”
What To Eat: There are lots of great restaurants right on the beach, but Chin is partial to tacos. “I actually love the street tacos on the smaller side streets.” For something more upscale, there are Four Seasons and St. Regis hotels in nearby Punta Mita.
What To See: Sayulita is a pretty laid back town. There are definitely some galleries and boutiques worth checking out, but another great option is to hire a boat to take you to nearby islands. “Going out to the Marietas is a fun little day trip,” says Chin.