Sometimes it’s necessary to put everything aside and just focus, seize the day and be relentless in the pursuit of a goal. For professional skier Cody Townsend this means doing something that has never been done before and focusing a ski career 15 years in the making on an ambitious pursuit of finishing the Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America. The concept was brought to life in book form by Chris Davenport, Art Burrows, Penn Newhard and many other contributors when they created the tomb in 2010, compiling some of the most iconic big mountain ski lines in North America. Juggling filming and traveling has made the idea of bagging all of them nearly impossible for Townsend, who after mulling over the concept for years has decided to focus on finishing each line. Starting now. “I guess the ultimate thing for me, is taking on a whole new scope of challenge that I’ve never put myself through,” says Townsend who will spend the next three years documenting, and attempting to ski, all 50 lines in the book.
The web series, “The Fifty,” will be produced by Townsend’s production company, Summit Launch Productions, with renowned adventure filmmaker Bjarne Salén of Endlessflow Films. Together they’ll document all of Townsends descents. Townsend will attempt to ski 16 to 17 lines per year while creating four to eight-minute episodes highlighting the adventure, the history, and the people along the way while sleeping out of his truck and following stability and weather trends. “All of them have at least one historical descent, but one person has not skied them all,” says Townsend, “I’ll attempt to ski every line as told in the book and will document the adventure, challenge and fun in the series.”
Townsend started the series off with his harrowing ascent and descent in 2017 of Denali’s Messner Couloir, an experience to which he describes as a “random luck experience” because of the lines testiness. Townsend begins his trip this week by heading to Utah and Colorado and within the next six months will continue a steady trend of ticking off lines as he goes while incorporating his signature light-hardheartedness and ability to push on through the sufferfest with a smile. From my comfortable office chair, I’m wishing him luck on that last part. I spoke with Cody before he left.
What spurred the idea for the project?
I couldn’t get a couple of these lines out of my head and with my current career schedule, filming and what not, it became nearly impossible to do this. Originally, I was just thinking about skiing some of the rad lines that I wanted to ski…. then I thought why don’t I just ski them all? I knew it would be a shift in regard to the way I’ve skied in the last 15 years professionally. I decided to cast all that aside and totally shift focus and now we’re here!
Is there any specific plan on how to map it all out or are you just going for it?
I’ve routed it all out by determining what lines are possible in January, February, March, April, May, and June, which helps to leave me windows. If I’m going to try and do like 16-17 lines throughout that time period I have to keep in mind that certain lines are not doable in January while others totally are…. I have these windows that won’t necessarily be dictated by weather but more so on the (snow) stability of where I’m going. I’m currently following all stability patterns across North America and am trying to put myself in those zones at those times. It’s a rough game plan and it’s already changing. I guess you never really know.
Do you have a game plan for ski partners as you go to all these different lines?
The goal is to be with different people every time. There will obviously be certain ski partners I trust and friends I want to ski with, but I really want to have local heroes, local pros, people from the region to give it the local flavor. For example, when I go to the Teton’s I’m planning on doing some stuff with Jimmy Chin and Mark Smiley, guys that are synonymous with Teton National Park. The goal is to be meeting up with different people throughout the excursion.
Do you have any lines that you are beyond excited to get on?
Well, all of them have something cool to offer whether it be a classic aesthetic, gnarliness or maybe they’re just really challenging–so the excuse to ski all of them made sense in the bigger picture. I have never been to the La Sals (Utah) before to ski Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, which I would probably have never gone out of my way to ski before but now I’m really excited to explore it and other lines that have never really been on the radar.
Are there any lines that scare the hell out of you?
They don’t really scare the hell out of me, per se, because if they did I shouldn’t be doing them. However, there are three lines in particular that are nerve racking in the sense that the conditions, the crew, the fitness, and the mental wherewithal have to be present in order to tackle them. University Peak, Alaska, the North Face of Mt. Robson in British Columbia, and the Mira Face on Mt. St. Elias: those are real lines for sure!
Is there any specific or ultimate goal you are looking for by doing this series?
I’m kind of looking forward to those low moments, to being exhausted, to pushing myself to fight and work through it all–I’m looking forward to the challenge. Everything I do is deeply personal so while it’s cool to inspire and I hope to do that, a lot of this is a selfish decision to complete this project. I just hope the audience enjoys following it!