The FIFTY Episode 9: Pontoon Peak

Another peak tests Cody Townsend's backcountry savviness.

Cody Townsend’s “The Fifty Project” is quickly becoming one of the most respected video series focused on backcountry skiing you’ll find on YouTube. Like other ski edits, each episode of “The Fifty” showcases beautiful backcountry scenery and skillful skiing. But Townsend’s web series goes beyond other ski porn edits by including something that’s often cut in favor of a more glamorous portrayal of big mountain skiing: how to deal with unfavorable conditions, and how to make good decisions in the mountains.

Case in point: In Episode 7, Townsend and photographer Bjarne Salen take two attempts to ski the Joffre Couiloir on Joffre Peak in B.C. because on the first try, they decide the couloir is just not safely skiable. They successfully make the ascent and descent on their second try, but discover that another skier has fallen down the Central Couloir, prompting Townsend and Salen to come up with a rescue mission on the fly. All ends well thanks to smart and efficient decision-making. 

Cody Townsend, The Fifty Episode 9, Pontoon Peak Alaska
Points North Heli gives the Fifty Project crew a bump to Pontoon Peak, Alaska. Photo credit: Bjarne Salen
Cody Townsend, The Fifty Episode 9, Pontoon Peak
Cody Townsend on his way to the top of Pontoon Peak in Alaska. Photo credit: Ming Poon

In Episode 8, Townsend and his crew encounter wind scoured and sun affected snow on the imposing 50-degree-plus slope of the Sphinx in the Chugachs of Alaska and decide they have to give up on reaching the peak and ski from a lower, safer point—even though that means returning to the Sphinx in the future to successfully complete the entire line in order to check it off the project list.

In the latest episode, Townsend and a crew from Points North Heli attempt to climb and ski Pontoon Peak—one of the Big Five of the Chugach Range. But yet again, the team encounters less than ideal snow conditions. At first they continue to soldier on up the face despite a nagging gut-feeling that to ski from the top would be a bad idea. Finally, on the last push up to the peak, PNH guide Jeff Dostie asks Salen how he feels about the plan to ski from the top of the 50-degree-plus skiable face. From there, the crew reaches the decision to down-climb, ski from a lower point, and stick to the two main rules of the Fifty Project: rule number 1, don’t die; rule number 2, have fun.

Episode 9 is dedicated to professional skier Dave Treadway, who tragically died while skiing in the B.C. backcountry on April 15. 

Watch “The Fifty” Episode 9—Pontoon Peak

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