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May 30, 2024 by Megan Michelson

Meet an Athlete: Cody Townsend


Home Base / Tahoe City, California

Activities / Skiing, Backcountry Skiing

Why Cody:

Cody Townsend grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and ski raced at the resort now known as Palisades Tahoe. In his 20s, he got into big-mountain freeride competitions and later appeared in dozens of ski movies and on the pages of every ski magazine, easily making him one of the most well-known and adored skiers in America. His 2,000-foot straightline of an Alaskan couloir known as The Crack landed him on network news back in 2014, when it was called the most insane ski line in history. “Anyone can be an athlete these days with a well-run social media account. But ultimately, the people who are on top are still doing cool athletic endeavors,” he says.

In 2019, Townsend announced his intentions to ski every line in the book, “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America,” a feat nobody has done before. The multi-year project became his magnum opus. “I like a challenge,” Townsend says. “I like the feeling of ‘I don’t’ know if I can do this, but I want to try.’”

Backcountry skiers in black and white facing snow capped peaks
Cody Townsend and Pep Fujas knocking off Utah's Mount Superior for The Fifty. Photo Bjarne Salen/The FIFTY

Cody is still the same skier, the same person, as he’s always been. It’s just that he’s developing another type of skiing these days. He can still ski these very beautiful faces and rip them, but he’s interested in a more exploratory style of skiing and it’s clear that he enjoys that challenge very much.

Bjarne Salen Multi Sport Athlete, lensman behind "The FIFTY"

Specialized Skills:

Through his video series “The FIFTY,” Townsend has shown that it’s always OK to back down from an objective due to conditions or other circumstances. He also doesn’t edit out the mistakes they’ve made in the backcountry so viewers can see the results. “I want to show the entire process,” Townsend says. “It’s a success when you’re back safely—whether or not you checked a peak off the list.”

More Fifty action. Photo Bjarne Salen/The FIFTY
Cody is an athlete, a filmmaker, and much more. Photo Bjarne Salen/The FIFTY

What's Next:

While the culmination of The FIFTY project still remains to be actualized, word on the street is that Cody is still closing in on all the lines and at some point the full story will still be told, likely just not on YouTube. At press time he was in Alaska chasing down some of the most challenging descents in the book, including University Peak, in Alaska’s Wrangell St-Elias National Park. If he doesn’t get all the lines, that’s fine too, some haven’t been skiable of late, to say the least. We just want Cody around. In addition to training and trying to finish The FIFTY as we know it, Cody has endless ideas for more big adventures in the mountains in which he’ll be mixing up more aesthetic ski lines and multi-sport challenges outside of skiing and heading into the unknown again. All of this will of course be documented on his wildly popular YouTube channel. 

Refusing to put the mountains on his timeline has proven to be Cody's greatest strength. Photo Bjarne Salen/The FIFTY