Since the moment he stepped foot on the slopes of Squaw Valley at the age of 2, Cody Townsend has felt a calling. In January 2019, the professional big-mountain skier released the first episode of his web series The Fifty Project , which follows Townsend as he skis each of the peaks featured in the book Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America , compiled by Chris Davenport, Penn Newhard and Art Burrows.
We spoke with Townsend to find out more about his journey to the most dramatic mountains on the continent, and the experiences he’s had along the way.
Q: Why did you decide to take on The Fifty Project? What inspired you?
A: It’s as simple as the book at one point started speaking to me in a way where it became unavoidable in my own mind to not try to ski some of the dream lines in the book. At one point, that internal yearn shifted from wanting to ski a few of the classics to setting off on an attempt to ski all of them. It’s hard to really know exactly why I decided to take on this project because personal desires can materialize in unpredictable ways but I do know that at one point in my life I said to myself, “You’ll regret not trying” if I continued to move through life without having at least tried.
Q: A decent amount of planning and safety are highlighted in many episodes. Is backcountry safety a purposeful inclusion for the project or a side benefit of documenting the process? If purposeful, any particular motivation for that?
A: The documentation of safety was purposeful simply because what intrigues me about objective based skiing and ski mountaineering is everything that goes into skiing the line. To me, the success of climbing and skiing something challenging is dictated by years of experience, months of preparation and training, weeks of analyzation and then crucial day to day decision making. It’s a gigantic puzzle piece that is as much mental as it is physical. With the project, I wanted to show that whole process because it was special and alluring to me personally.
Q: How has the project changed or evolved from when you started to now?
A: The great thing about making a series with 50-plus episodes is that it can evolve over time. From day one, we immediately set out with a style, goal and story to tell. As we started putting episodes out we realized what was working, what wasn’t working and what was special about each episode. It’s allowed us to modify, to adapt and to be able to tell a better story. It’s almost a living breathing series.
Q: Episode 17 brings in a narrative of land appreciation and connectedness to nature. In addition to accomplishing the task of skiing The Fifty, what else are you hoping your audience gets out of watching the series?
A: I really wanted to be able to tell stories that are bigger than just climbing and skiing. Every episode has it’s one little theme to it if you watch carefully. They all have a point or thesis statement to them. Usually when the line is challenging or dangerous, the line tells the story for us. But on certain lines, that’s not there so that’s where I wanted to tell stories outside of the box of normal ski films. To me, I’m most proud of Episode 17 because we were able to tell a story so different than what’s out there, because it could potentially change people’s lives and perceptions and because it wasn’t just about me.
Q: What has been the most memorable part of this project for your so far?
A: Mainly just getting to ski some of the dream lines. Last year, I skied a lifetime of dream lines. From Meteorite to the Grand Teton, Pyramid Peak to Pontoon, in one season I was able to climb and ski lines I’ve been dreaming about for years. That to me is the coolest part of the project. Taking dreams and actually making them happen.
Q: This project is not yet half way done, but has it inspired any thought about what might come next?
A: Oh yeah, I have tons and tons of thoughts what will come next. But ultimately, I won’t say what those are until those thoughts are materialized into reality. After all, an idea with no execution is just a hallucination.
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