My Kind of Training: Experience More with Cody Townsend
For skier Cody Townsend, there's no winning at skiing. And there's little point in serious training off the mountain when you can get out and hit the slopes
There is no winning at skiing.
Sure, certain forms of skiing have evolved to allow for a competitor to stand above the rest of their peers, but skiing in its most basic form only allows for one allowable outcome: fun. While my “skiing = fun” definition could definitely be argued, for me, its appeal centers solely on the happiness and enjoyment. This is why I try to follow in the footsteps of my heroes Shane McConkey, Scott Gaffney, and JT Holmes and focus on translating that fun, whether it be through purposely crashing to make fun of myself, or poking fun at the notion that training and overcoming dryland obstacles is a necessary component of skiing. This past November, while working with the GORE-TEX brand and Experience More, I truly wanted to show my best interpretation of getting ready for winter by, you guessed it, going skiing.
Four out of last five seasons in my home area of Lake Tahoe, CA, have been plagued with snow totals that could only be impressive if they happened in the Sahara Desert. During that span, 25 percent of average snowfall for the season became normal, eclipsed only by March of 2014, which totaled zero percent. Our local expectations over the past few years have become dramatically altered. So on the first week of November of 2016, when the Sierras became coated with an early blanket of snow, we jumped at the opportunity to get out and play around in it. Sure it was early, a tad rocky still, but when years past have included multiple months with no snow, the opportunity was not to be missed.
On November 14, Josh Daiek and I jumped in my truck and headed for the Sierra peaks surrounding Mammoth Lakes, CA, in search of snow and of the first adventure of the season. Driving down Highway 395, the mountains jump seven to eight thousand feet, straight up out of the desert. The sepia-toned granite peaks scratch the underbelly of the sky and point to the heavens as if always saying, “Up is the right way to go.”
We arched our necks through the windows of my oversized, rumbling diesel truck, scanning the horizons for ribbons of snow cutting through the mountains. The twelve- to fourteen-thousand-foot peaks bordering the west side of 395 are usually snow magnets, catching every whiff of a snowflake and holding them from early in October till late in July. Yet somehow, this season seemed especially thin, with most of the early autumn snowstorms hitting the Sierra back near Tahoe, a three-hour drive to the north.
Though slightly deflated at the lack of snow, we were there and we were keen to ski. At dawn’s first light we started up a dirt road full of car-swallowing runnels and undercarriage-destroying boulders. We took it slow and steady to make our way up three thousand feet off the valley floor to hopefully reach a semblance of a snow line.
Four thousand feet below our goal for the day, we parked, geared up and began the long walk through mere inches of snow on top of dry rock. An hour later, we rounded the corner to see two perfect ribbons of snow, cutting straight down two V-shaped hallways etched into the mountains eons before. Josh took his binoculars out, attempting to get a better look at what the snow was like in the couloirs above. He lowered his binoculars. “Doesn’t look too good, man.” The wind flagged off the peak, sending the most recent fresh snow off the mountain and disintegrating to the valley below. We questioned the do-ability and the safety. “Well, it’s definitely stable, and not ice. So let’s give it a try,” I suggested to Josh.
We began a tumultuous scramble over the wobbly and ankle-breaking boulder fields of the talus. The snow began right at the base of the couloir. Switching over to crampons, the sharpened points of my toes were the only thing gaining traction as we began ascending. Then suddenly, hidden in plain sight, the snow turned powdery and soft. It was as if the snow gods were playing a hand of three-card monte on us, hiding the powder right under our noses. We booted up the two-thousand-foot couloir, huffing and puffing as the altitude clicked into the teens. As we summited, the gale force winds magically halted. Another clever trick by the snow gods.
Gearing up, we braced ourselves for a feast of buttery-smooth turns down a hallway of rock standing forty feet tall on each side. We let our skis run, arched turns from wall to wall. Our hoots and hollers echoed through the couloir. Though our legs were burning from the skyscraper-sized stair climb and our lungs burned from the first foray of the season to altitude, the fun of ripping turns down the season’s first snow overcame any sort of physical bother.
We exited the bottom of the couloir, clicked off our skis and looked back at our descent. Grinning ear to ear, we had tricked ourselves entirely. Both Josh and I just got one hell of a workout, one all-time winter prep training run, and it didn’t feel like it one step of the way. It was just a fun early-season adventure into the mountains, and dang it, that’s my kind of training.