“Chasing a Rumor” was a couloir hunt six years in the making

“Chasing a Rumor” was a couloir hunt six years in the making

The Terminal Cancer Couloir—a stunningly narrow and vertical corridor splitting a cliff face in Lamoille Canyon—is the most famous ski line in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains. It’s the only famous ski line in the Rubies, really. Cody Townsend first skied the objective six years ago, and last May, along with Josh Daiek, returned to the Rubies with a loftier goal in mind—one that is highlighted in the edit that dropped last week, Chasing a Rumor.

“About six years ago, I was standing on the snowmobile road, looking up at Terminal Cancer after Jeremy Jones and I just rode it,” recounts Townsend. “Some random snowmobiler stopped by, looked up at ‘TC’ and said to us, ‘That couloir, oh yeah, there’s way more of those out there.’ The guy seemed legit enough so I took his word for it, never let those words go and decided to see if what he said was true or not.”

The snowmobiler was hinting at similar ski lines littered in the Ruby Mountains, a range that’s often overlooked among the West’s more popular, easier-to-access ones. While Daiek wasn’t super familiar with the range, having only spent a weekend skiing there in the winter of 2014-15, Townsend had embarked on several trips to the Rubies.

Watch: “Chasing a Rumor”

“I started going to the Rubies over a decade ago. My buddies and I would follow storms out of Tahoe to the Rubies to go sled skiing in the very established Lamoille Canyon zone,” Townsend explains. “But despite going there probably seven or eight times, I had never gone past the [Ruby Mountains Wilderness] boundary where snowmobiles are no longer allowed. This trip was a chance to see a lot of the Rubies that I had never seen before.”

It’s no surprise, then, that during talks about potential ski trips, Townsend jumped at the idea of returning to Nevada. “I said we should do something in the Ruby Mountains and it was like a light bulb lit up in Cody’s head,” details Daiek. “He had heard rumors about other couloirs comparable to Terminal Cancer, so it was in this conversation we came up the idea for Chasing a Rumor.”

A look at Terminal Cancer. Photo: Courtesy of Cody Townsend

After spending hours upon hours scouring Google Earth for beta regarding different areas and potential couloirs to ski, Townsend and Daiek departed California for Nevada with a game plan to ski a handful of remote lines, deep in the Ruby Mountains Wilderness, where the highest peaks in the range reside.

Operating out of a quaint, or as Townsend puts it, “run-down, dingy $50-per-night motel,” in nearby Elko, the duo (Townsend’s wife, fellow pro skier Elyse Saugstad joined them for the descent of Terminal Cancer) bagged five couloirs total during their five-day trip.

The crew faced challenges, mainly unusually warm temperatures that made stability questionable on south-facing slopes. “We had trouble with timing getting into and out of canyons with south-facing aspects that were baking in abnormally hot conditions. It created some nerve-racking wet slides and rock falls.”

In turn, Townsend and Daiek stuck to the couloirs that faced north, but did make one unsuccessful attempt at a southerly aspect. “We backed off of one line because of that heat I was talking about. It was the only non-north-facing couloir we attempted,” Townsend describes. We started our hike at 4 a.m. trying to mitigate the rapid warming but as we got to the bottom of the couloir at 7 a.m. the heat was absolutely blasting. With a lot of overhanging hazard that looked to be present the entire climb and the high probability that the warmth would be causing rock fall and wet slides, we backed off.”

The decision to turn around didn’t bother Townsend, adding, “that line isn’t going anywhere and because we backed off, I know I’ll still be around to try again another time.”

For the most part, however, conditions were incredible. High-quality snow blanketed the north-facing lines, making for ideal conditions for couloir skiing. Regarding the northern aspects, Townsend says, “stability was all time and all the north-facing ‘coulees’ held buttery smooth, boot top pow.”

While both skiers agree that the trip was a huge success, their opinions differ on which of the lines were their favorites. Townsend has an affinity for one they named “Pencil Chute.”

“It was pretty short in length but super tight, dead straight and quite hard to find. Both Josh and I came screaming (both literally and metaphorically) out of that chute,” he describes.


A screenshot from the edit that shows the beauty of these couloirs.

Daiek preferred one they christened “The Fork Couloir.”

“With a double crux and mandatory air it was probably the steepest and most fun line for me,” Daiek recounts.

It’s trips like these that encourage us mere mortals, the non-pros out there, to get out and plan similar adventures of our own. And for that, we thank you, Cody and Josh.

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