Catching Up With Cody Townsend

Fresh off the launch of Season 2 of The FIFTY Project, Cody Townsend talks about this season’s missions and his new film, "Peak Obsession."

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Cody Townsend climbing Middle Teton.
Townsend climbing to the summit of the Middle Teton. Photo credit: Bjarne Salén

Known for pushing the boundaries of both skiing and adventure, Cody Townsend is one of the most talented and respected freeskiers in the world—and his notoriety has only increased since systematically checking off the big lines outlined in the book, “Fifty Classic Descents of North America,” since January of 2019. 

Although similar projects have been attempted many times, Townsend is on track to be the first person to successfully ski the descents outlined in this book. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, he decided to forgo the help of helicopters and snowmobiles and climb between 4,000 and 7,000 feet to the top of each line, accompanied by local pros and mountaineering legends who provide the necessary insider beta along the way.

The much anticipated second season of “The Fifty” launched on YouTube days before Townsend’s new short film “Peak Obsession was announced. Working with professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones, filmer Bjarne Salén, Team Thirteen, and Teton Gravity Research, this film provides insight into the context and making of The FIFTY Project. Given these exciting times, SKI Mag caught up with Townsend to get the scoop on both projects, straight from the horse’s mouth.

SKI: What are you most excited for in Season 2 of The Fifty?

Townsend: Just getting back out there. Season 1 included so many insane experiences and iconic lines I got to check off the bucket list. Season 2 will, I’m sure, just be more of it. That’s what’s so great about the list—it feels sort of endless in pursuit even though there is a defined number of lines. I’m just excited to be back out there experiencing new mountains and iconic lines around North America.

How does it feel to be able to complete this mission with the help of some of the most legendary skiers in the world?

Cody Townsend, Pete Gaston, Anton Sponar and Greg Stokes
Townsend and friends stop for a selfie on North Maroon Peak.Photo courtesy of Bjarne Salén

I’d say that’s probably been the most unheralded yet awesome part of the project. I’ve been so lucky to ski with the local heroes that have defined themselves by the mountains they live in, along with some of the best damn skiers and snowboarders on the planet. From underground legends like Jon Johnston to Kevin Hjertaas, or really famous legends like Jeremy Jones and Jimmy Chin, the people have added as much to my experience as the mountains and lines themselves.

What is the sketchiest situation you have been in during this project, and have you ever reconsidered your goals due to safety concerns?

Not yet … but that could come. So far, the only time I’ve thought that this project was stupid—and I’m stupid for considering it—is when it’s like the third time in a week that I’m waking up at 2:00 a.m., walking a really long distance in the dark, and I’m just incredibly tired. In terms of safety, we’ve been conservative in our decision making so far and no lines have made me question the project as a whole. But again, that could come as we start to inch our way into the burliest of lines in Alaska and Canada.

Cody Townsend navigates a narrow traverse in season two of The Fifty.
Townsend navigates a narrow traverse on the Middle Teton.Photo courtesy of Bjarne Salén

You talk about the impact of climate change on the lines you are skiing during a few episodes of this project. How has climate change affected this project if at all?

Climate change wasn’t something I thought too much of as affecting this project. But in year one, I’ve learned it already drastically is and a lot of these lines are going to be unskiable and unclimbable really soon here. Having Joffre Peak nearly completely collapse this year was insane on a level I could never have expected. Then, completing and skiing the Watson Traverse on Mt. Baker made me realize that the lines in the lower 48 that rely on ice and glaciers to be navigable will be done in the next decade as well. I’ve realized this whole project is threatened like no other project I’ve done simply by the fact that our weather and climate is altering quicker than science has even predicted. This project [is taking place in a] moment in time where it’s doable, and I think we’re racing to a point where that time is ending soon.

Peak Obsession Movie Poster
Photo courtesy of Cody Townsend’s Instagram

Tell us about your new short film “Peak Obsession.”

“Peak Obsession” is essentially your normal episode of The Fifty—but with a little extra juice in the squeeze. Essentially, some of these mountains and lines deserve more of a story, more attention and more thought going into the final piece. Going to Alaska with Jeremy Jones to climb and ride two gigantic, steep, iconic lines fits into that category of lines that deserve more of a story. Plus, this is a standalone film that I wanted to bring to film festivals and theaters. The accessibility and ease of YouTube is amazing, but still nothing compares to the viewing experience of a theater. It’s one of the last social acts of storytelling that exists these days.

When can we watch it?

It’s on tour with the Backcountry Film Festival and will be online on November 27 on my YouTube channel for The Fifty.

Tune in every two weeks to follow Townsend as he attempts to ski the 50 most classic lines in North America. You can also follow along with the project via Instagram.