The climactic scene in the upcoming documentary Days of My Youth features 31-year-old Cody Townsend rocketing through an almost fully enclosed couloir somewhere in Alaska. He won’t say where, exactly. That would ruin the mystique of the feat. But few are likely to follow his ski tracks, so we asked Townsend to dish on the details of the exploit.
OUTSIDE: Where is this line?
TOWNSEND: This took place in a zone in, let’s say, southwestern Alaska just because we don’t need to direct people straight to it. We found it by flying around in a helicopter. It was my third time in that zone and we were dealing with some troubling conditions. The snow wasn’t good for jumping big cliffs so we started looking for tight couloirs.
You said you saw a lot of couloirs, but this one took the cake?
There’s a bunch out in this zone and that one was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It didn’t even seem doable when I spotted it from the helicopter. It had a full tube to it. You don’t really see a chute go through the mountain very often.
How steep would you say it was?
The very top of it was probably 60 degrees. For the first 40 feet, it was almost vertical. Then it mellowed out to 40 or 45. I can’t say exactly. It’s hard to break out a protractor when you’re going 60 miles an hour, but it was steep.
60 mph? Was that how fast you were going?
I was getting up to 65, 70 miles per hour. I’ve been clocked at downhill races at 90-plus and this was the fastest I’ve gone since I was a downhill racer.
In the video we can see you doing some “turns.” Did you need to check your speed?
There was one big turn at the top to get it back under control, otherwise I was going to go mackalooney! After that, it was just to keep some semblance of control. If I had kept going straight I never would have made that turn at the bottom. I would’ve Wile-E.-Coyote-d myself right into that wall at the end. I was just trying to keep it under control and not let the snow get the best of me.
How narrow was it at the bottom?
I’d say six feet. You might have been able to touch the walls if you’d held your arms out. All I can say is it felt really narrow while going that fast.
What skis did you use and why did you select them?
There was a lot of thought that went into that. I had two pairs to choose from and I went with Salomon Rocker 2 122s. What’s good about them is they’re really maneuverable. I can get them up on edge and flat out the tail really quickly, whereas if I was on a skinnier and more traditional ski it would lock into railroad tracks and you’d be trying to carve GS turns through that, which would not have been possible. I wouldn’t have been able to do those speed checks. I would have been going way, way too fast.
Right afterwards, you said it was the scariest thing you’ve ever done. Looking back on it, do you stand by that statement?
I would definitely say it’s in the top three. When I got in there, all of a sudden I realized how long, how steep and how narrow it was, and how fast I was going. It was like, oh my god, I’ve got to keep this under control. The stakes were high. I was fully committed. There was no stopping, there were no exits. If anything were to go wrong, there is no finding your way out of it. It’s like being in a barrel at Jaws, surfing: When you’re in, you’re in, and there’s only one way out. So when I got out of that thing. I definitely felt that it was the scariest thing I’d ever done.