What do Meteorite Mountain, Pontoon Peak and Mount Superior all have in common? To start, these mountains are all chronicled in the book, “The Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America” written by legendary ski mountaineers Penn Newhard, Chris Davenport and Art Burrows.
Oh and there’s another skier — Cody Townsend — who set his mind to climbing and skiing every peak within those pages.
Townsend recently made a pitstop to the campus of Western Colorado University as a part of the Blister Speaker Series, an outdoor-based collaboration that invites anyone from filmmakers to professional athletes to speak to trends shaping the industry.
Originally from Santa Cruz, Calif., Townsend made a name for himself by becoming one of the most-awarded skiers in free skiing history. He also earned notoriety for stunt skiing in Hollywood films and hitting what’s been dubbed as “the most insane line ever” all while being famously humorous and joyful when he hits the slopes.
The amazing journey to summit 50 peaks has since been documented on a YouTube series called “The Fifty” which follows Townsend, famed snowboarder Jeremy Jones and cameraman Bjarne Salen as they set out on an adventure full of majestic mountains, unexpected challenges and a bounty of untouched snow.
The plan was to accomplish the feat in three years, but the project has since been put on hold amid the ongoing pandemic.
But whether he’s shredding lines on Nevada’s Ruby Mountains or exploring British Columbia, “The Fifty” also doesn’t shy away from highlighting the harder moments, like turning back if a line feels unsafe.
“You have to create your own career and look at the environment and business opportunities you have,” said Townsend.
There have been tons of changes in the ski industry in terms of available gear and technology, but at the end of the day, the main mission, that is skiing, has remained the same.
But the path to professional skiing and the ways to promote have also evolved.
“Back in the day you were either in a ski movie or in Powder Magazine,” said Townsend. “You basically had two people that were going to decide whether you were going to be successful or not.”
For better or worse, now those “gatekeepers” of the industry are still present, but there’s other opportunities for self-promotion.
“Professional athletes are now our own content producers, or own publishers and our own voice and we can shape things how we want them,” said Townsend.
While that provides greater freedom to produce content and make a name for yourself, the job now requires more work and the media landscape is more complex.
The various media platforms also allow for athletes to speak out on issues important to them, said Townsend. But the pressure to always partake in the conversation doesn’t add a great deal of stress to the job.
“We’re human beings, we have our own thoughts as well and I think we should be able to say how we feel, but I also don’t think we should have to comment on every issue,” said Townsend.
Blister Founder and editorin-chief Jonathan Ellsworth said Townsend’s brings an invaluable perspective not often seen from professional skiers.
Ellsworth points to Townsends multifaceted talents that turned him into an industry leader.
“He has developed and maintained great relationships with sponsors, and while he certainly jokes around a lot on camera, he is one of the most thoughtful, smart, and intellectually curious pro skiers out there,” said Ellsworth. “Few people have as broad of a perspective on the outdoor industry or the firsthand experience as Cody does.”
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)