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Jimmy Chin: The Mountain Climber Who Made It to Sundance

How does one of the most talented outdoor photographers in the world capture the feats of extreme athletes? Simple: He becomes an extreme athlete himself.

This Summer, when the New York Times Magazine needed someone to climb the spire atop the Freedom Tower (1 World Trade Center), the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, to capture an image of the men who have the preposterous job of actually fixing things up there 1,792 feet over lower Manhattan, the editors knew there was only one man for the job: Jimmy Chin.

Chin, 43, is one of the most esteemed and talented photographers in the outdoor-adventure realm. He’s also a world-class athlete who’s climbed every one of the planet’s 8,000-meter peaks. (And skied down a few of them, including Mount Everest.) North Face signed Chin to its athlete team 14 years ago for his skill on big walls, but he was already well on his way to becoming the guy adventure magazines called when they needed a photographer to accompany the world’s top athletes into the field.

Fast-forward to 2016, and he’s a full-blown movie mogul.

This winter he co-directed a film with his wife, E. Chai Vasarhelyi, called Meru, which chronicled the story of Chin, cinematographer Renan Ozturk, and longtime climber Conrad Anker attempting—and succeeding at—ascending the 1,500-foot “Shark’s Fin” granite wall on the 21,000-foot Meru Peak, in India. The movie won the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award this year, proving that Chin’s just as adept with moving images as he is with still photos.

Today he’s busy churning out new films and commercial projects for major brands like Apple and Land Rover. But that doesn’t mean he’s sedentary. “I love being a climber and a skier and a surfer,” he says, from Sayulita, Mexico, where he’s decamped for the powerful south swell. “The most important thing for me is getting out. The mountains and the ocean provide so much inspiration and life force.”

He splits time between Wyoming and New York, where his wife is based, but he can handle the latter for only a short time. “I function better in difficult situations than in normal life,” he says. “Going to the DMV is far more painful than hanging on a wall in minus-20 weather at 20,000 feet. I’m way more chill up there.”

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