Skier Cody Townsend wanted to ‘Conquer the Useless’
After working at Matchstick Productions on their ski films for the past decade, world-renowned big-mountain skier Cody Townsend decided he wanted to do one on his own.
So, in early 2015, he and his wife, award-winning freeride skier Elyse Saugstad, recruited director Matt Sheridan and cameraman Athan Merrick from Team Thirteen productions and took a trip to British Columbia with ski-mountaineer guides Chris Rubens and Dave Treadway.
The result is the new winter-sports film, "Conquering the Useless," which will have its Park City premiere at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium on Nov. 18.
The movie captures Townsend learning the ways of the mountains from Rubens and Treadway, while also showing the relationship between Townsend and Saugstad.
It was Townsend’s first time producing a ski film on his own.
"It was stressful," Townsend laughed during a phone call from Lake Tahoe. "It is a big leap to set out on your own. And you put yourself out there with a lot of established ski-film companies."
The big challenge was coming up with a different vision from the other ski films.
"In 2014, I worked on a movie with Matchstick called ‘Days of My Youth,’" Townsend said. "I had a good a season and it was as good as a film segment that I could have had as far as my dreams went with my goal as a skier.
"As I was coming into the year after, the inspiration to continue to do the same thing wasn’t there," he said. "I realized I needed a change."
The idea to create a ski film that had more exploration, adventure, climbing and ski mountaineering kept popping into his mind.
"I wanted to do something off the beaten path," he said. "When you do ski movies, you typically do a full production and spend a lot of money. You have teams that stay in fancy lodges and fly around in helicopters."
He wanted none of that.
"I wanted to get back to the root of things and go on a new adventure," Townsend said. "I did not want to be in a controlled environment with helicopters and guides. I wanted to go out and camp, explore and find places that no one has gone before. I wanted us to be on our own and become our own safety nets and guides."
To do this, Townsend knew he needed to take some risks.
"There is a long tradition of ski movies, especially the ones by Dick Dorworth and Warren Miller," he said. "So, we needed to find a different angle."
That’s why Townsend’s team took off to British Columbia.
"The stretch of mountains from British Columbia all the way to Anchorage, Alaska, is all mountains for 3,000 miles and very little of that has been seen, skied or explored," Townsend explained. "There are helicopter operations that have their mini zones, but the rest of what’s available to see and ski is unbelievable. And that seemed like the best place to truly get away from everything."
The team took a three-week trip and spent two weeks camping in the mountains.
"When we were out there, the first thing we looked for is a place that is safe to ski, because we can only ski what the mountains allow us to ski," Townsend said. "We also looked for areas that would be challenging. So we looked for something steep, big and something that truly made the hair on the backs of our necks stand up."
To get to some of these areas, the group traveled by snowmobile.
"We camped below a network of glaciers and took snowmobiles to get on top of them," Townsend said. "We explored an area that is 100 square miles, and there were days when we just spent time looking for mountains."
Once Townsend found an ideal area, they would ride to the base and climb the mountain.
"Climbing and ski mountaineering are new to me and that’s why I enlisted Dave and Chris, because they have far more experience than I do," Townsend said. "I needed to learn from them and navigate these mountains safely."
Although finding the right line to ski was a bit tedious, the weather was the biggest factor.
"That winter was as weird as it gets," Townsend said with another laugh. "I remember one storm came and rained at the top of every peak. We had to wait for snow and also wait for the weather to clear and for the snow to stabilize. It was interesting how we had to figure out how to navigate through nature.
"When you’re in the helicopter, you basically just scratch the surface of the area, but when you’re in the mountains exploring everything on foot, climbing and camping, you feel what is going on in the snow," he said. "I find it akin to the difference between tow-in big-wave surfing and paddle-in surfing. Tow-in surfing is pretty easy, but you feel the waves and you feel the ocean with paddle-in surfing."
That’s where the thrill comes in.
"Quite often a ski film makes the athletes superheroes, but we set out to capture what we’re really like," Townsend said. "We wanted to show that we were scared and concerned about safety. We wanted to show that it sometimes took days to plan one line."
Townsend also enjoyed skiing with his wife.
"She’s one of the best skiers in the world and we often travel separately most winters," he said. "So, this film was able to truly film us together. In fact, in the film we talk about our relationship. There is something so strong about both of us being skiers and being able to ski together."
Team Thirteen, a Utah-based film production company, will present a screening of "Conquering the Useless," a winter-sports film featuring Cody Townsend, at the Jim Santy Auditorium of the Park City Library, 1255 Park Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The film will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $9.43 to $11.54 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.conqueringtheuseless.com.