Among his titles—adventurer, alpinist, photographer, director—Jimmy Chin is foremost a storyteller. Known for his ability to capture extraordinary imagery while climbing and skiing in high-risk environments, Jimmy has evolved from expedition lensman to Oscar-winning filmmaker. Chin’s 2018 film, Free Solo, which he directed with his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, follows Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of El Cap. Beyond excellent reviews from The New York Times and The New Yorker and winning an Academy Award, Free Solo brings climbing into the mainstream spotlight
But before Free Solo, there was Meru, a documentary film Jimmy spent seven years making, which tells the story of his attempts, along with Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk, to climb the Shark's Fin of Mount Meru, a 20,700-foot peak in northern India. The film won the coveted Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and was on the 2016 Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary. Jimmy’s photos have appeared on the cover of National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine, among others, and he has directed commercial film projects for the biggest clients on the planet. But Jimmy only started taking photos to support his own climbing and skiing habits. His skills standalone. Heck, he could be a professional skier, too. He has skied and climbed his way around the world on all seven continents, leading or joining expeditions to China, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Antarctica, Tanzania, Chad, Mali, South Africa, Borneo, Argentina, and more. In 2006, he was part of the first American team to ski from the summit of Mount Everest.
Jimmy grew up in Mankato, Minnesota to Chinese immigrants, who worked as librarians at the local university. By age three, Chin was playing classical violin, practicing martial arts, and speaking Mandarin and English. By 7, he was competing in and winning swimming and tae kwon do competitions. During a family vacation to Glacier National Park, Jimmy saw real mountains and wilderness and was forever altered. Post university, Jimmy moved into his Subaru and climbed all over the west. In Yosemite, where he was training for an upcoming expedition to Pakistan, Chin took a photo with a friend's camera of El Capitan that was sold to an outdoor clothing company, and his fate was set. Under the mentorship of Conrad Anker, Jimmy secured a breakthrough assignment as cinematographer for a high-profile National Geographic–sponsored trek across Tibet’s Chang Tang Plateau. That led to shooting for a feature film on Everest, during which Chin summited alongside Ed Viesturs and David Breashears. Ed later hired Chin to shoot him on the last two peaks in his quest to become the first American to summit all the 8,000-meter peaks. Jimmy quickly became one of the most sought after adventure photographers and directors in the world.
Jimmy splits his time between New York City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with his wife, filmmaker Chai Vasarhelyi, their daughter, Marina, and son, James.
- Free Solo, Nomination, Best Documentary Feature, 91st Academy Awards
- Free Solo, Best Documentary, EE British Academy Film Awards, 2019
- Free Solo, Best Sports Documentary, Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, 2018
- Free Solo, People's Choice Award: Documentaries, Toronto International Film Festival, 2018
- Meru, Audience Award, Sundance Film Festival, 2015
- First ascent of the Shark’s Fin on Meru, India
- First American ski descent of Mt. Everest, South Pillar Route
- First ascent and ski descent of Tai Yang Peak, Xinjiang, China
- First ascent of Tahir Tower, Karakoram, Pakistan
- First ascent of Fathi Tower, Karakoram, Pakistan
- First unsupported crossing of the Chang Tang Plateau, Tibet
- First ascent of Mt. Kinabalu, Borneo – V 5.12 A2
- First solo winter ski descent of the Grand Teton, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Single push solo ascent and ski descents of the Grand, Middle, South Teton, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- First ascent of the Anker-Chin route on Ulvetanna, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica