Flying High

Parkin Costain, an 18-year-old backcountry freeskier from Whitefish, has a simple goal: become the ‘best skier in the world’

By Andy Viano
Parkin Costain skis at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 11, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

As an infant, Parkin Costain made his first few trips down Big Mountain in a pack on his father’s back, traversing carefully on modest, groomed runs.

“Every turn transition you’d hear a ‘whee’ and you’d unweight,” Pete Costain, Parkin’s dad, said. “You’d hear another ‘whee’ and you’d compress, and then you’d hear the ‘whee’ (again). It was just ‘whee, whee.’”

For young Parkin, who would step into his first pair of skis at just 18 months old, the early backpack rides were his first dalliance with “whee.”

He’s been hooked on it ever since.

Parkin’s whees now come on some of the most gnarly backcountry terrain in the country, and the 18-year-old has burst into the freeskiing spotlight with a 2017 that saw him win a well-known video competition, land a professional contract and get handed the keys to a brand new, fully-loaded, custom-wrapped Chevy Silverado courtesy of Moonlight Basin ski area in Big Sky.

Next up, he says flatly, is becoming “the best skier in the world.”

“I’m getting there,” he said. “So far I’ve accomplished everything I’ve told myself I’m going to do, so hopefully I can just keep doing that: stepping the game up.”

“When you’re given a truck like that,” his dad interjects, “you’ve pretty much got to step it up or you’re just going to be an ass.”

Parkin’s unusual first name means young Peter in old English, and he and his dad are extremely close.

Pete was an accomplished snowboarder and traveled around the world to compete in his younger days, so it was no wonder his sons Parkin and Ladd would do most of their growing up on Big Mountain in Whitefish, where he and his wife had settled.

“We were a skiing family,” Pete said. “It wasn’t a matter of, ‘Should we go skiing?’ It was, ‘We’re going skiing.’”

Pete and his wife, Linda, met on a mountain — Mammoth Mountain in California where she was an instructor and he ran a snowplow — and it was apparent early on that their oldest son, Parkin, was learning quickly.

“This kid was so obviously a natural skier,” Pete said.

Soon enough, Pete started taking his son to the backcountry and filming his exploits, then editing them and helping Parkin gain a small local following. In the ensuing years, Parkin started dominating freeskiing competitions throughout the region and, in 2015, he scored his first major breakthrough. That year, he entered the Teton Gravity Research Grom Contest (grom refers to a young competitive skier) with a nearly three-minute edit that featured the teenager rocketing down steep backcountry lines, flipping and twisting along the way. Teton Gravity Research is one of the world’s premier ski film companies, and the grom competition, without saying so explicitly, is a way for the company to identify rising young talent.

Parkin Costain shreds some powder at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 11, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Parkin continued to post wins at competitions, and his edits kept getting better and better, too, a must for someone trying to make a living as a backcountry freeskier. His dad handed over editing duties to Parkin when he was 12 or 13, and his work paid off last year with another major win in a video contest — the Quicksilver Young Guns — that came with a $10,000 cash prize.

It also led to a flood of opportunities.

“Right after I won that, the day that I won, I got a call from this (heli-skiing) operation in Alaska that asked if I wanted to go partner with them for five years, and then just do free heli-skiing and film everything I wanted for five years,” Parkin said. “And I was like, ‘Uh, yes.’”

He spent a week last year in Haines, Alaska heli-skiing enormous mountains (traveling up the mountain in a helicopter, skiing down and then doing it again) and will do it again next month through his partnership with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA). The lines in Haines are some of the most treacherous in the United States. But they didn’t faze Parkin.

“People always say when you get to Alaska, ‘Man these mountains are huge,’” he said. “The first line I ever did (in Haines) I was more mentally scared than I was actually scared to ski it because everyone was all hyped up like, ‘Man, this is you’re first one, you’ve got to not fall.’ And then when I got into it, I was like, ‘Why is this hard?’”

That confidence, and Parkin’s ability to calmly assess and attack a line just by looking at it from the bottom of a mountain, is his greatest strength. He is fearless yet cautious, calculating but rarely intimidated. Watching Parkin ski at incredible speeds down impossibly steep mountains, peppering in massive jumps and effortless tricks, is engrossing. He has a screen presence that is difficult to describe but is something that Will Eginton of LINE skis saw, too, so much so that LINE signed Parkin to a professional sponsorship contract last summer.

“There’s a certain ‘wow’ factor,” Eginton said. “That’s a really unique attribute. There’s a certain sense you get when he starts skiing that you want to pay attention.”

Parkin has been partnered with LINE for several years, but his sponsorship deal was spurred by his win in the Quicksilver contest.

“When we saw that (Quicksilver) edit, it really elevated our awareness of what he was truly capable of,” Eginton said. “That piece he put together, it is so definitively Parkin’s style. He’s skiing really fast, really smooth. It was just impressive to see.”

That natural comfort on skis may have come not just from the time Parkin spent on Big Mountain, but also from the company he’s kept from a young age. His family is close with the Voisin family, and Parkin and two-time Olympic freeskiing slopestyle qualifier Maggie Voisin, also of Whitefish, grew up on skis together, pushing each other to improve.

“I’ve known Parkin since we were just newborns, and I have vivid memories of Parkin growing up,” Voisin said. “I give a lot of credit to having my twin brother (Tucker) and him to chase around. Being their age and being a girl, I couldn’t let them be better than me.”

The young Voisins and Costains drove snowmobiles and skied together, and the Costain family even pushed Maggie to give up figure skating and give competitive skiing a try.

“We got her onto the freestyle thing,” Parkin said. “And then in one year she was doing 720s at (age) 10 or something, and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”

Voisin made her splash on the national stage four years ago when she qualified for her first U.S. Olympic team as a 15-year-old, and she’s happy to see her “other brother” Parkin get his due this year.

“It’s about time that people started to notice him,” she said. “I just get so excited to finally see that people are awed and amazed by him because he’s so talented and he works so hard.”

Parkin said there is still one more breakout moment coming soon, when Teton Gravity Research releases its annual video in the fall. Parkin will be featured in a segment, filmed at a location to be determined, and after that he figures he’ll be one step closer to achieving to his ultimate goal.

“Then I just want to keep building my name,” he said. “I want to be the best skier in the world. I told myself five years and see where I’m at after that, and then maybe go try something else.”

And no matter where the future takes him, he already has the truck to take him there.

To see some of Parkin’s videos, follow him @parkincostain on Instagram.

The original version of this story misidentified Teton Gravity Research. The Flathead Beacon regrets the error.

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