A Q&A with professional freeride skier and Montana native Parkin Costain.


Parkin Costain is on his way to Big Sky when I call him for our interview on Sept. 23, 2023. It’s just before 4 p.m., and he’s meeting his family for a mountain bike ride on Mountain to Meadow, a trail his dad’s company helped build. He pulls off to the side of the road to take my call, and I promise him it won’t take long. The days for evening rides are numbered, and soon, Costain will trade his bike for skis as he embarks on another season as a professional freeride skier.

The Whitefish native has always chased Montana’s big lines, starting with his home mountain and eventually favoring Big Sky’s Headwaters ridge. Costain, now 24, first gained industry attention in 2015 when he won the Grom Contest hosted by Teton Gravity Research, the extreme sports media company he’s been filming ski movies with for five years now. In 2017, he won the Quicksilver Young Guns Ski Contest, setting him up for an ambassadorship with Moonlight Basin the following year, and additional sponsorships to come.

From his spot on the side of the road, Costain told me about how a small-town Montana skier is becoming one of the more recognized names in freeride. He’s come a long way since winning that Grom Contest, establishing himself as a multi-sport athlete and growing his presence throughout the industry, but TGR certainly got something right in its 2018 blog when it said, “Get used to hearing the name Parkin Costain.”

Costain is backdropped by sky near Dillon, Montana. PHOTO BY JONATHAN FINCH
Costain throws a trick on his bike in Virgin, Utah. Costain has recently taken on new sponsors to reflect his work as a multi- sport athlete, including skiing in the winter and biking in the summer. PHOTO BY JONATHAN FINCH

Mountain Outlaw: What does it mean today to be a professional freeride skier?
Parkin Costain:
The term has certainly shifted— more since social media has come out than really any other time. Back in the day you used to be able to just be a good skier, do your thing over the winter and then no one would really know what was going on in your life until the premieres came out and the magazine articles came out the next season. But these days it’s more like, every single day of your life you have to be a so-called professional skier. And you have to use your social media to spread the word and show the world what [you’re] doing more so on a day-to-day basis.

M.O.: And so you have that film component that’s still a part of it, and that’s always been a big part of what it means to be a professional skier. But now you have social media. Tell me a little bit about how sponsors play a role in your career.
So there’s a big misconception … that TGR, the production company that I film with and others, pays the athletes like they do in Hollywood, and that’s definitely not the case. It’s all your sponsors, that I’m super fortunate to have a great select few of, and they partner up with the production company, and then you’re wearing all next year’s gear and then doing promotional services for them. So they pay you but then they also pay the production company. So you can still come out on top but it’s not like in Hollywood when you’re just paid to be in the film.

M.O.: Who are your sponsors right now?
[I’m] currently with Scott Sports, Backcountry. com, Polaris, and then Moonlight Basin … It’s been cool this past year I branched out and I had been working with a couple different companies but now I feel like everyone that I am working with aligns really well with my multi-season kind of personality where I’m biking all summer but then pursuing skiing really heavily in the winter, and all the brands that I’m working with now cater to all the activities I try to get up to.

M.O.: That’s really cool to hear. So that’s kind of an introduction to you as a skier. But tell me a little bit about your life growing up.
I grew up in this little town, Whitefish, Montana, but [have] always been a Montana native … I had a ton of support from the community itself, but it was funny because I was skiing around on this hill that just never seemed to fully back my type of skiing. One day I did this chairlift jump. … I did a jump off this chairlift terminal that was kind of like Candide [Thovex] style, and he’s got a couple of really viral social media videos of him going really big over these chairlifts, and I did a really similar thing and my local resort where I grew up at was like ‘We never want you skiing here again.’ I just had no support for it whatsoever. And around that same time, I’d won a film contest called the Quicksilver [Young Guns] Ski Contest, and I was around Big Sky [Resort] and then met up with some folks from Moonlight and … [they] advocated for that [kind of skiing]. And they were bringing on these professional athletes to support each one of their clubs. So they’ve got Bode Miller in Spanish Peaks [Mountain Club], Scott Schmidt in [the Yellowstone Club]. And then somehow at a really young age, I just bumped into it and they brought me on board [at Moonlight], which was super cool.

M.O.: That’s a funny story. How old were you then?
I was 17.

M.O.: What was the culture like skiing in Whitefish then, and how is it different now—if it is different?
Definitely. My parents moved there 30-plus years ago and it was a total tiny little town that no one really knew about, like the population was just 2,000. They were just ski bums that loved the area because of the skiing that it catered to, but then also just the small hometown feel of it. And it certainly in the past few years has turned into more and more of a Jackson or kind of any of these mountain towns, Big Sky, in particular as well. All of them are getting more developed and the world has found out about them, probably partially due to social media, but then also COVID blew everything up in small little towns.

M.O.: Do you feel like your style of skiing, especially back then when you were 17 and just starting to show people what that looked like, was sort of unprecedented in Whitefish? Or was there a community of people who were getting up to skiing in the way that you were exploring it at that time?
I felt like at that age, I definitely was starting to stand out and locally, there is some incredible talent that’s come out of there. Tanner Hall’s come from there. Maggie Boyden has come from there. Adam Delorme comes from there. And they all grew up in the same community I did, so there’s definitely something in the water. But then they transitioned into park skiing, where they moved to Park City not too long after they turned teenagers and then went and trained really hard and then pursued the whole slopestyle circuit. And I don’t know what it was about me, I just continued to follow my dad around and didn’t go and do the park stuff. I went and tried to pursue some big mountain freeride competitions and definitely excelled in all of those. It’s a cool little community to grow up in and I don’t know what exactly got me to where I am except for just skiing a lot with my dad and people like to see what I get up to on a weekly basis in the winter, I guess.

Costain jumps a cliff in Cooke City. PHOTO BY JONATHAN FINCH
Costain shoulders his skis on the Headwaters ridge at Big Sky Resort. As far as inbounds skiing goes, Costain says the Headwaters are his favorite, providing steep, exposed terrain. PHOTO BY JONATHAN FINCH

M.O.: What else did growing up in Montana look like for you besides skiing?
I was super fortunate to have this family that was always into the outdoors. So whether it was skiing or mountain biking, we were always playing outside, hiking in Glacier National Park, coming down here to Yellowstone and just throughout all the communities I’ve been involved in, it’s something my parents have really instilled in me is that we’re going to get out in the mountains and go play in the backcountry. So that was always a good way to grow up. And then also my dad started the trail company TerraFlow Trail Systems. And ever since I can remember I was just trying to jump in the excavator and go move dirt. It’s turned into a really cool project. Now, everywhere we go, there’s a little bit of some sort of trail network that we’ve touched in Montana. The way that it caters to the public and then people are stoked and they just have a good time on the things that we’ve put some effort into; it’s really rewarding to see that in all these different little mountain communities

M.O.: Shifting back to skiing, do you have a moment when you realized that you had made it, that this as a professional career was kind of kicking off for you?
It definitely took a few years to ever feel comfortable saying that because I was always like, ‘I’m just starting to maybe feel that but I don’t want to jinx it’ … The first year that I definitely felt maybe this is going in the right direction was in 2018. So the year after I won the film contest and signed with Moonlight and I had some bigger support from sponsors; then we got involved with TGR and that’s when I got to go on film for one of their films called “Far Out” and definitely knew that was a step in the right direction. And then the year after that [I] did a couple small films with Benshi Creative where we had a ton of really great public response. And yeah, since then, I think I’ve been in five TGR films and it definitely took two or three years of all that happening consistently for me to feel comfortable and be like, ‘Alright, I’m on the right path to make this happen.’

M.O.: Is there any moment that you can recall where you were like, ‘Oh, my God, this is happening’?
Definitely when I got the call to go on the first “Far Out” film trip with Tim Durtschi and Colter Hinchcliffe and I was 18 years old. [I] didn’t really know anyone at TGR yet. They knew a little bit of who I was from previous film contests that I’d done with them but still had not been really involved in the scene yet. So getting a phone call to go ski [British Columbia] with those guys and go and shoot a ski movie was definitely a childhood dream and it probably stands out I think more than anything else as just like, ‘maybe this is actually happening.’

M.O.: Was it something you always wanted to do?
It certainly has always been all I was ever interested in … Well, not all I was ever interested in. I’m always trying to pursue different business activities. But definitely skiing stood out as just like, I love this so much. I don’t want to ever not do it. I was in the lift line when I was really young, and I had this classic line I always bring up where this guy asked me, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ And I was probably like 7 years old and I’m just like ‘I mean, I’m just gonna keep skiing.’ I’ve always thought back to that moment, which was really cool.

M.O.: How has skiing in Montana and being from Montana—this landscape and these communities— served as a launchpad for your career in this sport?
Oh, boy. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it certainly was a great training ground when I was coming up … Honestly when I was really young and getting into competing, skiing around in Whitefish, it’s literally always cloudy. And somehow that always gave us a little bit of an advantage when I was on these little teams, and we were just used to skiing around and jumping in the flat light … Then moving out to Big Sky, it definitely catered towards my faster, bigger, charging type of skiing that I really love doing. It’s just gnarly in the Headwaters and having exposed terrain like that, that you can hike up to from a chairlift and you get to ski that every day when you’re 16, 17 years old, it definitely just really catered to exactly the type of skiing that I was trying to do. And it made me feel comfortable and be able to pursue that at a younger age than I think most big mountain skiers get to.

M.O.: Is there anything about the communities that you grew up in and the cultures of people and support networks that you feel like have informed your
career now?
I think at a young age, I looked at all these other kids that were competing and coming around to the same stops I was that were out of like big cities and had huge teams with 100 kids and quite a few coaches but not enough to get the one-on-one you kind of do in the smaller towns, where everyone around you is just psyched to see what you’re getting up to and supportive and you get so much community vibes in these little towns that I’ve grown up in rather than like the big cities. I think that catered well to just me feeling confident and comfortable in my own skin and allowing me to kind of pursue this wholeheartedly.

M.O.: How do you think that skiing contributes to the culture of the state of Montana?
I think it’s definitely a little bit in everyone’s blood, whether or not they moved here recently or they’ve been here forever. It’s just ingrained in our culture, like if you’re in Montana, you definitely are relatively close to a ski resort. And if you’re not then you definitely know someone that ski tours around in your local hills. So I think no matter where you’re at, it’s definitely just a part of who we are.

Watch Costain’s chairlift jump and enjoy his early films online.

Bella Butler is the managing editor of Mountain Outlaw.