If you’ve already seen Matchstick Production’s new film, “Attack of La Nina”, then you’ve seen it happen in its entirety. If you’re like me and you’ve watched the trailer a couple dozen times, it’s the shot at minute 2:36, shortly after “huckfest 2011” was declared, which made me stop and rewatch 6 or 7 times while making various cringing-faces and clenched-teeth noises at my computer screen. An orange-helmeted skier, whom I later deduced to be Cody Townsend, hits an enormous cliff with speed and about 50 feet into what appears to be a 70 foot flight he impacts a jagged protrusion of rock with a tremendous crack of skis upon rock. As I played and replayed this crash I could hardly believe that someone could live through a crash like that, much less come out of it relatively unscathed. To find out what it’s like to take a hit like that and exactly what happened I got in touch with Cody Townsend and MSP’s Scott Gaffney who caught the action on film that day.
Scott Gaffney (SG): We were in Terrace, B.C., and that was probably day 16 of a 17-day trip. We had flown several days, but had only had two or three really good, full days prior to that. It was getting into the late afternoon, and we'd had a few lines in prior, although we'd been fighting the weather all day and had to fly far deeper into the mountains to find some clearing.
Cody Townsend (CT): I had already skied three or four lines that day.
SG: I think he just wanted something really big—something that made people go, "Holy shit!" It was a pretty long line down to the cliff, not all that technical or anything, but it's rare to ski 800 vert or so to something as large as a 70' cliff. That's what this was.
CT: Everyone’s mindset was that the line was fricking burly. Bushy (Rory Bushfield) already told me he wanted nothing to do with it and you could feel the tension build the moment I declared my intent to ski that line.
SG: I have confidence in Cody, and the cliff looked good, despite how large it was.
CT: Rolling into this cliff not much was going through my head other than getting a feeling for how much speed I thought I needed and looking for a suitable take off. There was three potential launch zones that I scoped, I decided I’d pick which one I’d hit on the way down.
SG: I just hoped he was going to carry enough speed.
SG: The camera guys were stationed on an opposing ridgeline that was probably half to three quarters of a mile away. We saw the strike and bounce. Then the noise came seconds later. And it was scary—still so loud and brutal from afar. There was a moment where I thought, “I may have just watched a friend die.”
CT: Well I didn’t hear or feel a thing. I was extremely calm the entire time in the air. When I hit, the first thing that went though my mind was, ‘Sweet! I think I’m alright.”
SG: Cody gave us a wave pretty quick, which put the major concerns to rest. We all know adrenaline can do amazing things at times like that, so there wasn't tons of reassurance. But when he got to his feet and hiked a bit for a ski, relief set in.
CT: I started feeling around my body for any potential wounds that might have been disguised by the surge of adrenaline coursing through my body. I stood up and slowly started to realize my knee was pretty sore. Within a few minutes, the pain amplified exponentially. Then I knew I was in for the surgery room.
SG: Cody flew back immediately with the other skiers on board, and they went out of radio range for quite a while because we were so deep in the mountains. That was a little unsettling. We were in the dark for quite a while just speculating and hoping for the best.
CT: I flew straight from the field to the airport and immediately to the hospital. Rory and Henrik flew with me, which was nice. Felt good to have my buds around.
CT: My injuries were a non-displaced tibia plateau fracture, 3rd degree MCL tear, partial ACL injury, complex meniscus tear and LCL sprain.
CT: Under-hung (sloping) cliffs are incredibly good for stomping but should be treated with an extra ounce of caution. On something that big and that under-hung, I’ll probably figure out a way to scope it from the side, not just from underneath. Otherwise, the injury is just a factor of being in the mountains and having the desire to jump off really big cliffs. Shit happens when you party in the mountains.
SG: A lot of things we film involve the skiers doing something they'd do on an everyday basis at their home ski areas. But sometimes they are taking it to a whole other level, and this was one of those instances. When that happens, I think you have to be particularly studious when it comes to your line. I imagine a six-month recovery—and seriously close call to an outcome way worse—is going to make Cody way more precise from here on out.
Check out “Attack of La Nina” for the rest of Cody’s hard-charging footage. Go to www.skimovie.com to check out the “Attack of La Nina” tour dates for a location near you so you can see all the action from skiing’s best.