How do two of the most badass professional skiers on the planet end up with a tiny dog that can fit in the palms of their hands? Snow athletes in mountain towns typically seek out huskies, retrievers, or other large-breed dogs that are built for backcountry adventuring, but skiers Cody Townsend and Elyse Saugstad found their match with a two-and-a-half-pound Yorkshire terrier named Theo, who turned out to be the perfect dog to fit their lifestyle.
Townsend says, “We travel so much as professional skiers, so we kind of need a portable dog.” Townsend is best known for his online web series, The Fifty, which follows him on his quest to climb and descend all of the ski lines featured in the book, Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America. His partner, Saugstad, won the overall title on the 2008 Freeride World Tour (FWT) — the top big mountain competition circuit — and she is a two-time Powder Magazine Best Female Performance winner; she stands amongst the best to ever click into a pair of skis. “One of the cutest things is just watching Cody with Theo,” Saugstad says. “Theo is this adorable little dog and Cody just melts for him.” She says that when grown men walk by and see Theo, they can’t help but comment on his indisputable cuteness. Saugstad continues, “If we’re in a public place and walking around with him, he’s this tiny, proud little dog … a proud little walker, he likes to get his strut on.”
Theo has an Instagram account, @theothebrave, and the name fits. In the backyard of his home in Tahoe City, California, Theo enjoys hunting squirrels and chipmunks. He goes outside and scans his territory before taking off after the first rodent he sees; sometimes he spends the entire day doing this, even in the wintertime. Theo will even go after squirrels that outweigh him, earning him the title, “Theo the Brave.”
In truth, Theo’s bravery extends far beyond the backyard. The pup has accompanied Townsend on a few of his travels to remote parts of North America for The Fifty series, camping in the back of his dad’s truck. Theo is always bundled in fashionable jackets and has heating pads to stay comfortable in colder climates, but still, his small stature and lack of fur make him very temperature sensitive, so nights in the British Columbia backcountry can be challenging. “One night we slept in the pop-up tent on the back of my truck,” Townsend recalls, “and I heard Theo in the middle of the night trying to drink water, only to find that his water bowl was completely frozen over.”
In the summer months, Townsend trains for The Fifty by scaling Squaw Valley Ski Resort and the surrounding mountains, and often Theo accompanies him. “People are always impressed and a bit dumbfounded that Theo can go so far,” Townsend says. “He’s hiked with me to the top of Squaw Valley probably 10 times. He loves going for hikes, and he crushes it. And if he doesn’t, if he gets tired, I throw him in my pack.”
Theo’s thirst for adventure is matched only by his affection for his parents. There’s a lot of stress that comes with being a professional skier — from the dangers faced on each adventure, to the loss of close friends, to the intensity of making a living on expeditions in the mountains — but no matter what happens, Townsend and Saugstad can always rely on Theo to lift their spirits.
“No matter how bad of a day you have, you walk in the house, you see him and he’s excited to see you and … Ah, man, it’s just so adorable and so awesome that you just can’t help but smile,” Townsend says. “Through this pandemic, through life issues, there are so many times where you just look over at Theo and start smiling. Dogs are magical like that.”