Cody Townsend Is Breaking The Internet

What happens when a YouTube clip goes viral

Cody Townsend accepts the honors for Best Male Performance last Friday at the Powder Awards. PHOTO: Powder Awards
Cody Townsend accepts the honors for Best Male Performance last Friday at the Powder Awards. PHOTO: Powder Awards

“Wow, I never in my life thought I would be here right now.” Those were Cody Townsend’s first words when he accepted the award for Best Male Performance at the 15th Annual Powder Awards Friday night at The Depot in Salt Lake City. He also won Best Line, Full Throttle, and finished in 10th place in the Powder Poll—awards that were bestowed for Townsend’s power, style, and versatility, and notably for a massive, near-close-out line he skied in Alaska’s Tordrillos.

That was six days ago. By Thursday, Townsend’s “most insane ski line ever” had streamed on YouTube to 2.5 million people.

This morning, Townsend was on Good Morning America. Yesterday, he was on SportsCenter’s top 10, with a tweet from NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Daily Mail, Gizmodo, and USA Today, among a slew of other publications, all grabbed the embed code to share a slice of Townsend’s pageview pie. (We did too.) The Huffington Post ran a story on the front page of its sport section titled, “This Is How You Cheat Death On Skis.”

The only person responsible for Townsend’s straight shot up the richter scale is Townsend himself (and the Russian pirates who leaked the clip first, sending MSP Films into a tizzy to get it up on YouTube themselves). The line Townsend skied is the biggest thing we’ve seen in a decade. Or ever. It’s a beautiful, massive, vertical slot canyon deep in Alaska, and he points it straight through the gut, probably reaching speeds upwards of 60 miles per hour. The best part is when he emerges from the canyon’s dark pit back into the light and you can hear his ecstatic scream through his GoPro’s soundproof container. The skiing community is celebrating Townsend’s athletic feat, however, a lot of other people are gawking at it. (A Q&A between big-mountain snowboarder Travis Rice and Townsend launched on TravisRice.com on Saturday, the two discussing the mind-blowing line that Rice and snowboarder Erik Jackson scored a first line of two weeks prior to Townsend.)

With fame, comes consequences and words like “daredevil” and “death defying.” To the normal person, this kind of skiing is unthinkable. To those of us who are skiers, Townsend’s line is equally mind-blowing, but we also know all of the work that he put into skiing this thing and the years of patience he exercised. We know that he had thought about this for five years and discussed it with his family and his colleagues at MSP. It was a weighted risk. Or at least we hope it was.

Risk requires a delicate balance between athletic prowess and calculation. But when a YouTube clip goes viral, the media seizes the opportunity to sensationalize. Tomorrow, the circus will move on to the next YouTube video, probably featuring a cute, fuzzy thing or the next great dating philosophy. But what matters is what they leave behind. Will that be a respect for athleticism or a sensationalist furry about “daredevil” risk?

Hear Cody’s side of the story behind his viral, biggest, most insane, ski line EVER:

And of course, The Line: