Mallory Duncan talks skiing the famously asthetic Terminal Cancer Couloir with fellow Team Riders Corinne Prevot:
Have you skied the Terminal Cancer couloir yet? It’s a 50 classic!!
This might be the most iconic line of my ski career. Not because it’s the steepest, or the deepest, or the longest, or the gnarliest... but because it’s the most iconic ‘ist’. Anyone who has even thought about getting into backcountry skiing in California has heard about the line “Terminal Cancer Couloir”. Skiing TC is like having a feather in your hat: it doesn’t really serve a purpose, it’s a nascence to find, it usually gets pretty beat up, but damn does it look slick.
I grew up driving past the TC Couloir every winter. It was tucked away somewhere near Elko Nevada and while driving to SLC from Tahoe I’d look at the mountains knowing, "there's gold somewhere in those hills". In all honesty, the line itself is very straightforward. A few short steps from the road you began your ascent, you come to the base of the Coulior in under 30 mins and then proceed to boot for another hour or so. Once you get to the top, as long as you can execute a mediocre hop turn, you’re basically set to ski it. So what was stopping me?
On April 6th as I prepared to board a flight to SLC and meet up with fellow 4FRNT athlete, Corinne Prevot. I thought, “if not now then when?”. I gave Corinne a call and proposed the idea, she was immediately down. A few days later we were at the base of the TC. It had snowed a few days earlier but the line couldn’t be further from fresh, mini fridge-size moguls lined the thing from top to bottom. The sun was shining ferociously but had absolutely no softening effect on the well-protected icy chute. We looked at each other, instantly knowing what the other was thinking, “Damn this is gonna be gnar!” Nevertheless, we kept moving.
Corinne Prevot: "Whatever drew us in, also pulled us up. The ascent is unlike any couloir bootpack: a distinct hallway, with nowhere but straight up. The bulletproof surface demanded our full attention for the setting of each step. An hour in, the few thoughts that can pass through the focus nearly echo off the walls on either side. There’s a simplicity to walking up and skiing down a straight line — so direct and to-the-point. My mind danced between the meditation of the bootpack and caution of claustrophobia. With each step, my mind gets quieter and the dancing dissipates knowing that there’s a grand arrival on top."
There were other options near by, but TC was calling and we were eager to answer. We stepped into our skis, clicked our poles together, and began methodically hop turning down this icy, cold, darkly, magnificent couloir. In every other backcountry circumstance, we would have either turned around at the base of the chute or skied the line off the back. The time spent earning simply wasn’t worth the turning…but there was something different about TC. Something else drew us in.
So, what is it that makes the TC so desirable and so iconic? And for that matter, what gives any line appeal? Is it the accessibility, visibility, challenge, consequence, the conditions? In the case of TC, it’s none of the above. Ultimately, It’s the aesthetic. This line is indisputably one of the most impressive features I've ever seen. You’re looking up a perfectly consistent, artfully carved hallway and even if the skiing is a clapped-out mogul field you still want to get in there just so you can soak up its beauty. A line so impressively elegant you’ll endure 700 ft of hand-to-hand combat with blue ice, and death chunder just so you can be amongst it. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Written by Mallory Duncan
Photos of Mallory and Corinne
RECOMMENDED GEAR FOR THE MISSION: