It looks like the most difficult part of Cody Townsend’s project to bag the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America over the next three years won’t necessarily be the ski descents, but the climbs to access them.

The Fifty Episode 8, The Sphinx, Alaska

Townsend navigates the knife-edge ridge of the Sphinx. 

To make an already intimidating project even more intimidating, Townsend decided at the outset of his three-year-long quest that he wouldn’t take the easy out—that instead of getting heli assists to the top of each line, he’d climb up to them. So in Episode 4, the pro skier puts in a six hour ascent to ski the Hypodermic Needle; in Episode 6, he climbs 8,000 feet to the top of Mt. Currie; in Episode 7, he and his crew muscle their way up to the top of Joffre Peak—twice—via a sketchy, exposed couloir.

Catch up: The Fifty Episode 7, Joffre Peak

The Fifty Episode 8, The Sphinx, Alaska

How steep is a 50-degree slope? This steep. 

While those climbs were spicy, they didn’t put Townsend on edge as much as bootpacking up the sustained 50-degree slope and the knife-edge ridge of the Sphinx in Episode 8.

To ski the Sphinx, one of the most iconic big-mountain lines of the Chugach Range in Alaska, is no joke. But as Townsend discovers in this episode, to climb up the top of the steep, exposed line requires even more mettle. 

“For climbing you have to have a lot more special conditions, meaning stability and [the snow] is not too deep," says Townsend. "It’s kind of a hard opportunity to pass up because these lines are no gimmes, and they’re lines that have been on my mind as being one of the most difficult points of this entire project.” 

Watch "The Fifty" Episode 8, The Sphinx

Tune in every two weeks to catch a new episode of Townsend’s big adventure of skiing the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America. You can also follow along with Townsend's project via Instagram


The Fifty Episode 9, Pontoon Peak, Cody Townsend

The FIFTY Episode 9: Pontoon Peak

Another peak tests Cody Townsend's backcountry savviness.

Cody Townsend, The Fifty Episode 7, Joffre peak


Cody Townsend discovers that sometimes, the skiing’s just not worth it.

Cody Townsend, "The Fifty", Episode 3 Terminal Cancer

The FIFTY Episode 3: Terminal Cancer

Cody Townsend and co. get creative in the name of first descents.

The Fifty Episode 11 Giant Steps Couloir

The FIFTY Episode 11: Giant Steps Couloir

Cody Townsends goes after a line "with a high price of admission."

Cody Townsend, The Fifty, Episode 4 - The Hypodermic Needle

The FIFTY Episode 4: The Hypodermic Needle

Cody Townsend takes the road less traveled.

Cody Townsend The Fifty Episode 21: Mt. Shasta

The FIFTY Episode 20/21: Mt. Rainier and Mt. Shasta

Cody Townsend wraps the first year of the Fifty Project with one last lesson and a big ol’ party shred.

The Fifty: Episode 5-Mt. Currie, Cody Townsend

The FIFTY Episode 5: Mt. Currie

What goes down must first go up—way up.

Cody Townsend, The Fifty: Episode 2, Mount Superior

The FIFTY Episode 2: Mt. Superior

Cody Townsend checks off line number 2 on his epic adventure of tackling the 50 classic descents of North America.