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What is The FIFTY?

It started as a dream that was infecting Cody Townsend’s brain. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he told us recently when we had a chance to catch up with him about the project.

The idea: To ski mountaineer all of the lines chronicled in the iconic book, “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America.” 

No one’s ever done it, but Cody and his partner on the project, cinematographer Bjarne Salen, are determined to try. As of September, 2021, they’ve completed 36 of the lines, most of which are documented on The FIFTY YouTube Channel. The series is known for focusing on all the planning and preparation for each of the ski mountaineering trips, not just the skiing itself.

Starting on October 6th, Cody and Bjarne will be back to posting a new episode on YouTube every other week. Each episode will document a new line from the past winter.

The two also post “Bonus Episodes,” created during the downtime between traveling and skiing lines. In these episodes, Cody and Bjarne dive deep into some of the equipment they use. They offer these episodes to showcase the preparation that goes into tackling the lines - and also to help others choose the best gear for their own backcountry adventures.

As Cody told us, “I find all the small details the most fascinating. The days leading up to it. The planning. The research. The navigation. The trying to put the puzzle together. It’s almost more fascinating to me than the skiing itself.”

The Faces of the FIFTY

Cody Townsend

Cody is one of the most awarded skiers in freeskiing history. He’s had a successful alpine ski racing career, done stunt skiing for Hollywood films and more. Cody’s also an evo ambassador. His connection with evo started with his first trip ever as a pro skier. He was invited to a shoot for Powder Magazine alongside evo Founder and CEO Bryce Phillips. Cody told us, “We traveled the West jumping from resort to resort, staying only in hostels along the way. I became close friends with Bryce from that moment forward.”

Bjarne Salén

Bjarne Salén is a Swedish ski mountaineer and cinematographer, based in Portland and Hood River, Oregon. He’s filmed some of the world’s greatest skiers and his work has taken him all over the globe. Bjarne has directed and produced films for companies such as Salomon, Oakley, Patagonia, and The North Face.

The Most Recent FIFTY Episode

"Ep. 28 SW Face, Mt. Stimson, MT"

In the NW corner of Montana, a ten-thousand foot mountain rises out straight out of the thick forest. Mt. Stimson dominates the skyline like a giant shark tooth turned upside down. The SW Face of Stimson, first skied by Pete Costain and Andy Zimet in 1997, is a five-thousand foot, steep, exposed and sustained face that guards all falls with a three-hundred foot cliff at the bottom. It's a challenging ski line to begin with, but guarding the mountain is a nine miles approach filled with thousands of deadfall trees, thick forests and nearly impenetrable willows. Add in a narrow canyon, a slick cobblestoned creek that must be crossed hundreds of times and no defined trail and you have the single hardest approach for any ski line so far in The FIFTY series. Joined by snowboarded Nick Russell, Cody Townsend and cameraman Bjarne Salen embark on a three day sufferfest of epic proportions.

 Some Of Our Favorite Episodes

"Ep. 17 Mt. Tukuhnikivatz"

Mountains are a skier's passion, but for many people in North America, they're far more than that. They're a source of life, death, spirits, ancestry and most important, it's their home. Joining with Len Necefer PHD, Diné (Navajo), the CEO of Native Outdoors and a professor of Native American Studies along with Connor Ryan, Húŋkpapȟa (Lakota), Townsend goes into the La Sal Mountains, the ancestral homelands of the; Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Diné (Navajo), and ancestral Puebloan peoples, to ski as well as talk and learn about their individual connections with the mountains and how important they are not to just skiers, but to the world.

Super Epsiode "Peak Obsession"

Peak Obsession is a stand alone film premiered at film festivals around the world and dives into the depths of the mindset behind the project told through the story of two of the more challenging lines in the book, Meteorite Mountain and Pontoon Peak near Valdez, Alaska. Joined by legendary snowboarder Jeremy Jones, along with cameraman Bjarne Salen, they set out on an adventure rife with challenge, exhaustion and a bevy of lessons to learn along the adventure.

A Platform For Others

Being in control over who or what goes into each episode, Cody has used the FIFTY as a way to put the stories of others front and center. “Just me on camera for 50 episodes is not going to be entertaining, so let’s pull a bunch of different people in.” Cody admits. Whether it’s leaning on local knowledge of lines and current conditions or diving into deeper conversations on the relationship we play in our public lands, acknowledgement and equity, Cody and Bjarne have developed a deeper appreciation for the people and places they visit as they are welcomed with open arms.

While Cody and his wife, Elyse Saugstad, have very similar accomplishments and awards to their names, there is a disparity in the support they each receive. With that in mind, Cody and Bjarne have prioritized finding local women with previous knowledge of a line or interest to tackle these lines as a part of their team. Season 2 featured women in 7 of the 9 episodes including the Super Episode titled “The Mountain Why” where Michelle Parker and Cody rode their bikes from their homes in Lake Tahoe to Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and Eldorado. And Cody says we should expect more women in future episodes as well.

The Completed Lines

The Book: 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America

Written by Chris Davenport, Art Burroughs and Penn Newhard, this book is a compilation of aesthetic and iconic ski descents. It catalogs lines that a collection of North America’s most knowledgeable backcountry skiers and climbers deem to be ‘classics.’ This 208-page, 11” x 12” volume includes stunning photography and conversations with well-known ski mountaineers. 

The FIFTY is Sponsored By:

SalomonSmithYETIevoArcadeMammutHestraThule