I might have seen it in a magazine a while ago, but the first time I really looked at a picture of Terminal Cancer was while flipping through my 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America book. It was beautiful. A coin slot cut through granite 2600 vertical feet tall facing north in the Ruby Mountains was quite eye catching. Measuring fourteen feet wide at the top, thirty at the bottom, and maintaining a consistent slope angle of somewhere in the mid 30’s (about an easy double black diamond steepness) it was a sight to behold, both from the road and while you are in it. Two sources provide a reason for the name. One says that a couple of guys that saw it said “I wouldn’t ski that unless (even if?) I had terminal cancer!” They promptly skied it the next day. The other source says that the name insinuates the necessity of skiing this line before you die.
Eric was looking at my 50 Classics book, and, being from California, he was flipping through the California and Nevada section. He saw Terminal Cancer and said “that’s halfway between my home and Salt Lake! If we ever go to my house, we should stop by on the way.” Some time passed, and then we began planning for our spring break. Terminal Cancer was immediately on the list of things we wanted to do.
Heading west on I-80, we pulled off in Elko, then followed the road to a small town called Lamoille and headed up Lamoille Canyon Road. The road isn’t plowed, and we almost had a three mile skin into the bottom of the line. Fortunately, some snowmobilers offered us a tow, which we gladly accepted. A short ride up the road, Terminal Cancer came into sight. After we said good bye and thank you to Doug and Dusty, we slid down and then hopped across the river to begin the ascent.
There was a lot of wind deposited snow, and we dug a couple of shallow pits to figure out what was going to happen. It was a tough call, because the snow in the couloir itself was most likely far more different than the snow we were digging in.
Our decision to ski ended up paying off, even though hiking up the couloir was the equivalent to standing in the barrel of a loaded gun for a couple of hours. By the time we had finished digging around in the snow, two others had caught up to us. I had actually skied with one of them, Abraham, last March for a full moon tour in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Skinning and making kick turns every couple of steps got frustrating, and boot packing took over about two-thirds up the line. Once we had all reached the top, we had a narrow bench to stand on and ready ourselves for the descent.
Six people pulling skins and changing layers in a fourteen foot wide space in the granite made for getting cozy. Sean, who was with Abraham dropped first and after he was out of the whole thing, I dropped in with the camera in my bag. Hop turning in about eight inches or more of wind deposited snow quickly burned out my legs, but with short rests every now and then, I finished the couloir in style. At least it felt like I did. After that, I posted up and shot my friends as they came down. The whole day was amazing and being in the barrel of a gun for so long was quite a trip. At the end of the day, huge smiles split across Eric, Riley, Kendra and my faces. It was a good start to spring break.