50 is the loneliest number
January 8, 2020 12:21 AM   Subscribe

Published in 2010, the Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America chronicles some of the continent's most iconic ski lines. With the book being a collaboration between three authors, no single person has skied all fifty lines. Cody Townsend is a pro skier attempting to change that, and is documenting his progress in the youtube series "The Fifty". Not content to merely ski down all fifty lines, he's climbing the peaks first (as opposed to using helicopters or snowmobiles), resulting in ski mountaineering videos filled with more risk discussions and planning than sketchy spring skiing. With funding for three years, he's currently starting his second winter and has ticked off approximately twenty of the various peaks, spanning big Alaskan lines to monoski first descents.

The Fifty Classic Ski Descents is inspired by it's rock climbing analog, The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, which similarly is written by three authors with no single person having completed all fifty. For seven years Janelle and Mark Smiley attempted to climb all fifty routes and came a hair away, completing forty eight. Of course, Cody and and the Smileys met up to complete the Grand Teton in Wyoming for Cody's project, a peak which shares both classic climbs and classic ski descents.
posted by yeahwhatever (10 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting timing. Now or never?

I live in an area where, forty years ago, January meant ski racks and skis on cars everywhere, with multiple downhill and cross-country options nearby. Local news featured ski condition reports. Schools had ski programs. Almost everyone skied or skated. Winter was snowy fun. Normal snowpack in January was often measured in feet.

As I type this, the ground is bare. The nearby XC trails report “spring” conditions with bare and wet spots. Downhills resorts, the ones still open, are struggling to make snow even as predicted temps for the next week rise to nearly 50. This has increasingly been the case over the past couple of decades. Can’t recall the last time I saw a ski rack on a car.

Increasingly skiing is becoming something available only to those with money to burn on travel and pricey lift tickets. Few local young people are bothering to learn to ski, reasoning that they’re unlikely to be doing it much. I guess having a list of destinations will be helpful for those wanting to pursue it in the future.
posted by kinnakeet at 2:58 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]

The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America

So this article is awesome, but I feel like you can't claim a climb is a classic (say that five times fast) when it has only been summited once, or five times and not since the rock calved 20 years ago.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:58 AM on January 8

Early on the list alphabetically is Polar Star Couloir, Mt. Beluga, Baffin Island, an easy 500 mile hike (with a bit of a swim) north from Newfoundland. This list has not been conquered as much for difficult skiing as for incredibly boring travel requirements. I've walked up one (Tuckermans) and it just has never seemed like it'd be a hard or particularly challenging or interesting ski, it's pretty steep at the top but a lot of folks do it as it's an easy drive. A few (Denali) on the list are impossible without perfect weather. Just silly. (not a fan of adventure lists)
posted by sammyo at 5:46 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

That's not really my definition of "classic" but they certainly are arresting vistas.
posted by crush at 6:42 AM on January 8

So, I googled Polar Star Couloir, Mt. Beluga, Baffin Island and that link talks about a trip some people took there to do that particular descent, along with others in the area that included "Ford Focus", "Model T" and "Escort". Honestly, who names this shit?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:30 AM on January 8

Agreeing that "classic" is the wrong word. "Epic" is more like it. If you were going to do "classic" ski descents you should begin with something like the Thunderbolt Ski Trail , built in 1934 on Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. More info.
posted by beagle at 7:38 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

> Honestly, who names this shit?

I’m pretty sure it’s the same as climbing, where the route is named by the person / party who makes the first ascent (or descent in the case of skiing). Some route names are very clever. Others make it clear that some people are way better at climbing than they are at naming things.
posted by tom_r at 9:27 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]

So this article is awesome, but I feel like you can't claim a climb is a classic (say that five times fast) when it has only been summited once, or five times and not since the rock calved 20 years ago.

So maybe the 50 classics should be updated to reflect changes in climbing and the routes themselves since 1979; ditch the alpine horror fests and add like, the Golden Ticket, the Gift, Mandala...
posted by Flashman at 10:32 AM on January 8

Interesting timing. Now or never?

This is actually covered in one of the videos where they talk about “last descents” as opposed to first descents due to climate change and land slides.

As for the classic-ness of the list, I kinda of feel like whatever adjective you choose someone is going to quibble. I agree that things that have only been done once (Hummingbird Ridge) or very few times (the north face of Mt Robson) can’t really be classics, but I also don’t know what else I’d call them that would be accurate.
posted by yeahwhatever at 11:14 AM on January 8

Related: if the reciprocal of 'classic' is 'cutting edge', Google up some piolet d'or youtube vids for the best new 'big' routes. I was a bit surprised that many of these guys are hyper-experienced old dudes, not the x-games/camp IV twenty-somethings.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:16 PM on January 8

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