page contents

Terminal Cancer Snowboard Descent

To say it’s been a while would be an understatement.  So I am going to beat right around that bush.

As I sit on a flight to Denver to meet with Zach McCarthy for a week of skiing big lines, I figured what better time to write about the last trip and the 50 classic line that I rode with Kellen Busby and Sean Berry; Terminal Cancer

Its 5:45 AM in Sandy Utah, Sean is making coffee and our gear is already loaded up in his car.  We plan to leave at 6 AM for a 4 hour drive from SLC to the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.  We drove thru the not so great, great salt flats and north east Nevada desert passing a prison and a loves rest stop for a bathroom break.

We pulled into the canyon after no sign of snow for hundreds of miles and were happy to find the aspect we were skiing was holding plenty of firm packed snow.  We passed a helicopter landing pad that was operating throughout the entire day and continued up the washboard road hoping the car wouldn’t vibrate off the road into the river below.  10 minutes of curvy, pot holed, snow trenched gravel later, we came around a sharp bend to see the couloir.  10-30 foot wide 2000 foot tall white ribbon inside a deep trench that scared the mountain. 

Minutes later Kellen showed up from his recent trip to Wyoming and Montana.  Sean shuttled Kellen up so his girlfriend Amy could work in his van while we were skiing since it was a weak day after all.  There were several minutes they were gone and I walked up and down the road doing obscure stretches as a way to calm the stoke.  Luckily the other two were not around to watch me pace and attempt to stretch out and prevent myself from starting the boot pack without them.

As soon as they returned we quickly gathered our gear, made the decision skins were not going to help us at all and began a boot pack straight from the road.  Crossed a river and continued up the apron to the couloir. It was mellow but we all were on edge knowing there was rapid warming in our forecast and falling rock was imminent so we moved rapidly.

As we rounded a corner near the base of the line a sudden explosion echoed through the entire canyon.  We all froze in our place and expressed the fact that we were all scared shitless.  The explosion continued and we realized and it was a large snow and rock fall on a cliff on the opposite side of the canyon.  The Cliff was being baked by sun and for that reason we all felt safe continuing knowing our aspect was going to be shaded most of the day.  We quickly scurried up to the tunnel like couloir took a quick break, expressed our levels of stoke and pushed on, hugging the walls of the cliffs to avoid any rocks that might fall into our boot pack.

(Above is a black streak that shows where the rock and ice had fallen from the cliff)

Two other skiers were already booting up in front of us and the speed we were moving we expected to catch them.  That didn’t happen.  Every time we stopped to check where they were it seemed like they were ants in the distance.  This distance never changed until they reached the top of the line.  The boot pack felt endless, it was an endless staircase and the first time I had felt like I was truly enjoying the uphill.  Surrounded by rock walls towering over us and some firm, chalky snow, what was there to not enjoy.  Okay maybe the piles of sweat.

At one point sunlight started streaking into the line.  We thought we needed to move faster since it would start warming rapidly.  That was not the case. We learned pretty quickly, by quickly I mean 15 minutes;  the sun only touches the Terminal Cancer for 15 minutes before it goes back into shade.  This was both relieving and a true show of how cool a line like this can be.

After a fast and steamy boot pack we topped out where we would begin skiing, we met the other 2 skiers.  Two woman from Tahoe who did a similar 4 hour drive to ski this line and drive back.  One of them was from NH and we all talked about our east coast stoke and what was bringing each of us out west long or short term.  After some brief banter we let them have the line to themselves to enjoy the views and we moved up on to a rock platform and ate lunch as well as talked about our plan for the descent.

With the line being bumped out Sean and Kellen expressed they wanted me to go first since the bumps would just be taller after they had passed through.  I’m never going to argue when my team insists I got first because I’m on a splitboard.  I told them I planned to side slip the first 50 feet as there was low snow cover, it was fricken steep and I wasn’t proving anything by jump turning a section that was just wider than 158 cm snowboard.  They agreed and planned on the same. After the first 50 feet I began making turns trying to not swallow my go pro (I use a mouth mount) and continue to focus on breathing and the next turn as I usually do in these type of descents.  I hit a good resting point and pulled out.  I was breathing so heavy the stoke yells barely came out.  I radioed Sean and Kellen and rode on that high the entire line.  Kellen made turns on the first 50 feet I decided to side slip, Sean met us at our first stopping point.  We hooted and hollered the entire way down.  Heavily breathing the entire descent;  Hooting and hollering with whatever breathe was left, leapfrogging our way down the 2000’ couloir.

We got back to the car with plenty of daylight to enjoy a beer, catch up on life, laugh and smile about ticking off such a notable line and after a couple hours we went our separate ways and drove the long slog back to Salt Lake.  This was the perfect way to end my time in Salt Lake visiting Sean.  

If you’ve ever thought about going to the Rubies to ski this line.  Don’t hesitate.  Just go ski it.  You will thank yourself later.


I’ve been saving this one for some late season hype, yes I said late season, yes it is still ski season people.  I could spend all day writing about how rad the Chic Choc mountains are or Could just share a ton of photos with very little words and let those speak for this incredible place. Yeah, lets go with option number two.

The Air BnB only 15 minutes from the nearest trailhead was super rad!

Got our bearings and had a “easy” first day on Champ De Mars and the second day moved to Lyall where the lines were steep and the snow was deep.  Or at least deeper than the snow we normally get in the presidentials.

The Air BnB also allowed for night sessions after long days of touring for quick booter laps!

As Well as the great avalanche shovel race of 2019

Mount Hogsback

The camera spent a lot of time in the bag given how deep the snow was on  Sterling Peak

Back to Hogsback for round 2 on the North Couloir 

Here have a video of us party skiing on Mont Sterling

Opening Closed Terrain

I’ve been sitting on this trip report for a couple weeks and am super sphyced to be posting about it! Standing on top of “Double Barrel” a line in the Oakes Gulf on Mt. Washington with one of my ski partners we decided the snow was too wind scoured to ski the line. We walked away from it and as I was making my way back up on to the peninsula I got a quick glance at Franklin and immediately saw two lines on the south east face. Both steep, one being as long gully and the second being a couloir. What seemed to be a disappointing day had quickly became a sweet recon mission. We descended off the west facing side of Washington; down Monroe Brook that day and scheming began immediately. 

Within hours I had a Cal Topo map under way and started hunting for any beta I could find. Luckily a few friends had been over to the area and had some photos to share. Knowing from the google earth images I had looked at in the slides I knew there was a chance of rappels being involved and decided to get a team of climbers together for this mission. From the second I had mentioned it was probably going to be a suffer fest all 4 I had asked to join just got more and more stoked. Our team consisted of Sean Berry, Joe Miller, Kellen Busby, and Kyle Huston. We planned on March 9th for the attempt.

6 AM Ammo Ravine lot. We crammed down a breakfast with elevated excitement, got skins on skis/splitboards and reassessed our plan; laid out the extra gear that wasn’t in our typical backcountry ski packs. Ice screws, rappel rings, webbing, potentially pickets? We were going in blind to a fairly remote zone. Not knowing what to expect. 

We skinned up Monroe brook until it was too steep. Threw on crampons and began motoring up the steeper slope until we crested over the lip of Mount Monroe. We were immediately being sand blasted by 50 mph winds, it was a struggle to stand at times. We still had at least a mile of traversing. We all locked down our shells and were silent for a few minutes until we finally got a chance to find shelter behind a rock out crop. We put down as much food as we could while getting our first look at the couloir and continued on skins to Franklin.   

We topped out on Franklin and began the hunt for the top of the couloir. Sean Descended into some variable snow showing potential for wind slabs. We moved one at a time down to him as he found the route. He noted the variable wind slabs to us and we did a new hand shear test every 75 feet. The wind slab we were dealing with was not your typical white mountain wind slab that feels like styrofoam but was soft and powdery. After slowly descending into the couloir we started digging pits.


This is where I’m going to be a snow nerd for a minute because I already know I’m going to be getting asked for this. Sean and I dug a pit then Kellen and Joe dug a second pit. On our compression test the wind slab we had been observing had a Q1 fracture on CT1. Yes CT1. For the people that are less of snow nerds, that is not a good sign, in fact that basically means thew slope we were standing on could potentially rip out from underneath us at any moment. This immediately closed the route for us. We decided to turn it into a snow science day. Kellen and Joe did an ECT which told us this slab was not propagating until a moderate number of taps. I then did a propagation saw test on Sean and I’s pit. The column did not drop until I had sawed through 95 of the 100 cm column. This gave us hope for actually getting to ride this route on that day.

(Phone video from me of Sean’s CT Test)

We decided to do a roped skier cut. We buried Kyles skis in our pit and built and anchor off of them and had a bomb proof dead mans anchor. Ive been skiing with Sean for 2 seasons now. I have never seen him jump so fast to volunteer to do the skier cut. He tied in and Joe put him on belay. He cut the slope, jump turned cut the slope the other direction and nothing moved. We immediately felt okay with skiing the line. This was our first mistake. We had just opened up closed terrain.

(Video from Kyle)

Sean untied and skied down into the choke. I followed, braiding Seans turns in the oh so sweet powder and joined him at the bottom of the choke and we waited for the rest of our team. This is where things went south and we instantly were unsure of our decision making.

“Kyle is dropping”. Seconds later over the radio all we heard was “SLIDE”. Kyle was being carried by an avalanche down towards the choke. Sean and I backed ourselves as far out of the path as we could, Within seconds we heard the wumpf and watched the avalanche funnel through the choke. I had never seen snow move so fast within feet of me Adrenaline was though the roof, The 4 of us were safe, but our friend was being carried and rescue mode had turned on.

(Helmet cam from Kyle during the slide)

Kyle had gotten 1 ski out of the slide and on to the flank. He was safe. Re evaluation began immediately. Sean and I did not feel comfortable climbing up the choke and wanted to finish the line and climb a parallel treed slope.  With hesitation Kellen and Joe side slipped down the bed surface. We made the group decision to have everyone come down to us in the choke. The couloir opened up into a wide lower angle line after the choke. Yes, we skied it. Should we have? Maybe not after just having a team member pulled by a slide. We did it anyways. We used the treed slope on our ascent back up and did not rip any more of the wind slab apart.

Why did the slope rip when Kyle went? Why didn’t Sean get caught? Why didn’t I get caught? It was not until after we had ascended back up the line and observed the crown and Joe and Kellen Had mentioned how it started to crack. I braided Seans Line. We had chopped the slope into smaller wind slabs. When Kyle skied he had pushed Sean and I’s smaller wind slabs into each other and as they gained momentum they grabbed the rest of the wind slab and pulled the entire upper slope out from under him.

We got out and everyone was okay. We skinned back to Mount Monroe and descended Monroe Brook all the way back to the vans. We were all okay, we were all safe. The beer came out and the debriefing started. We all knew what went wrong. We knew we should not have skied the line that day and did it anyways. We were blinded by what seemed like a promising skier cut. We ignored our compression test that told us the slab would trigger with the slightest effort. Sometimes the mountains tells us no, we were stubborn, and we didn’t listen that day. As a group we decided to keep this slide to ourselves for some time. We wanted to sit on it. That day I was part of the most in depth debrief I had ever been a part of. This was the strongest crew I had ever entered avalanche terrain with. The most knowledgeable team I had ever been a part of. We made one mistake that could have drastically effected one of my best friends lives had he been pulled through the rock choke. But we were all safe. Theres a lot more to this story that were factors in the event that happened. Kyle was the only one there without avalanche training. He was not at fault by any means. He asked all the right questions when digging pits and doing hand shears. He was not afraid to voice his opinions in what I would find to be an intimidating situation with our team. This day was a prime example of a halo effect.
We survived on March 9th. We skied what we now call Kite String Couloir on Mount Franklin. We learned. We had a discussion a few days ago about finally letting the cat out of the bag on what had happened on March 9th. The team, Sean, Joe, Kellen, Kyle and I, all hope that others will learn from our experience on Mount Franklin that day. Dont open closed terrain.

   (Last two photos: Joe Miller)

Using Format