Being Cody Barnhill
At first glance, Cody Barnhill's website hardly seems to be that of a pro skier. There are no glorious ski shots plastered on the home page, and equal attention is devoted to personal musings and playing in his band as to his ski accomplishments -- an unusual representation for an athlete and star of the 2014 Powder Awards' Movie of the Year.
However, for anyone familiar with Barnhill, the website is par for the course for the understated skier. And starring in a movie like the artsy and award-winning "Valhalla," which came out last fall from Sweetgrass Productions, was the perfect way for one of skiing's most independent personalities to step back into the limelight.
Known for following his own passions rather than the well-trodden ski film star path, Barnhill's career has continually evolved since he moved to Alta, Utah, from his native Alaska a decade ago at 21. His talent and promise immediately impressed other pro skiers and industry insiders, bringing in sponsorships and filming opportunities, but there was something different about Barnhill.
"When I first met Cody, I thought he was going to be one of the next big names in the sport, like [Mark] Abma or Sage [Cattabriga-Alosa]," said Utah-based ski photographer Scott Markewitz. "But it was pretty clear right away that he wasn't interested in fame and wanted to pursue his own goals. I think most of the time he would rather ski for the purity of it."
Since his breakout years, Barnhill, who recently relocated to Sun Valley, Idaho, has had plenty of ups and downs in his career. After skiing for Rossignol for about four years, he moved to the boutique ski brand 4FRNT for the opportunity to be a part of ski design as well as the athlete team. "I feel on some level I could have taken my skiing farther," Barnhill admits. "But I've just been following my heart."
This attitude, as well as Barnhill's other passions besides skiing, played a large part in him landing the starring role in "Valhalla."
"There were a lot of reasons we chose Cody, beyond the fact that he's a ripping skier," said Sweetgrass producer Nick Waggoner. "He's got a certain creative intelligence, gravitating toward artistic projects and conversation about ideas that go beyond skiing. He's not just a skier -- we knew he had the mind for the nuance of what we were doing and wanted to film with 'Valhalla.'"
The camaraderie that had already developed between Barnhill and the Sweetgrass crew was enough for him to say yes to the role without having any idea what the project was. "I knew the Sweetgrass guys picked me as the main character for some reason, but I never asked what that reason was. They just called me up and asked if I wanted this role," he said. "I didn't know what that meant at the time. I didn't ask questions. But I know what kind of artists they are so I figured it would be fine."
For Barnhill, filming for "Valhalla" -- which was more scripted than your average ski movie and required him to play the role of a character named Conrad -- was different than his previous experience skiing for movie companies like Teton Gravity Research, Levitation Project and Sherpas Cinema.
"Filming a story is lot more time and energy consuming than a normal ski movie. We filmed every single day from sunrise to sunset, sometimes all night," recounted Barnhill. "It was kind of stressful. The storyline sounded like something that could go horribly wrong; at some point I just had to give myself up to it and trust [Sweetgrass] knew what they were doing."
A question Barnhill now fields often is whether he will pursue an acting career. "I'm not overly enthusiastic about getting myself out to Hollywood. But if an opportunity presents itself, I'd be open to the way the universe works," he says.
For now, however, the ski universe is keeping its grip on him. While his relationship with 4FRNT came to an end last fall, Barnhill recently signed a multi-year contract with Dynafit as a ski athlete and to help design a big-mountain freeride line with the company, which is currently known more for its ski mountaineering equipment.
Barnhill plans to take this opportunity with Dynafit to pursue engineering in more depth, saying he will be taking engineering classes as soon as this summer. It's just another layer that makes being Cody Barnhill an ever-evolving thing.
"I want to get the basics of understanding in engineering and design, and how to transmit ideas," he says. "I'll see where I need to go from there."