If you've ever driven i80 west from Salt Lake to California, you're sure to have passed a band of mountains in the middle, drawing your attention dangerously away from the road to daydreaming of fantasy lines with surreal lookouts. I've gotten lost in this daze plenty a times, but it wasn't until this spring that the perfect opportunity arose to ski it.
I coach a big mountain team out of Park City, and the boys had a their Championships at Lake Tahoe. Training day meant we had to get out a day earlier than the parents could due to work restrictions, and i volunteered to take young buck Alex Lundstrom with me. It's the first time I've ever traveled further than 30 minutes with a teen, and I'm sure the first ski road trip Alex has ever taken with a coach or adult besides parents of the other athletes. The newfound responsibility was overwhelming, tho we bullshit and spit rap lyrics all day at the resort together.
Three and a half hours past Salt Lake City, my eyes laid rest on the gem of the Nevada desert, The Ruby Mountains. The daydreams of skiing unfamiliar terrain above the barren desert had risen from its dormant state. I was lost again. I told Alex about the infamous "Terminal Cancer Couloir" as if it were some magical place that existed in a far off time. I went silent.... "Dude.... We should ski it." It was awake, it was real! with a burst of excitement i told Alex to call his parents and tell them to grab our touring packs, skins, and Daymakers Alpine Adapters from their house and my house and bring it to Tahoe. We were going to ski it on the way back... That is, if we could convince his parents that it was safe enough.
Outside of competition, the 5 days in Kirkwood was spent digging tunnels through the two story deep snowpack that had buried our condo, and telling his parents that the Chute was as stable as it ever would be, and the 6-12" of snow expected would make it legendary. It would be Alex's first big backcountry mission, and tackling an absolutely classic at the least.
Eventually, the Lundstroms gave in, and our quest to the Rubies was happening. On our drive from Lake Tahoe, we stayed the night in Elko and then drove out on the Lamoille Highway until reaching NF 660. You'll then take a right, and drive this road into the beautiful Lamoille canyon.
Drive past the camp sites for the glaciers and before you see it, the couloir will be right in front of your face.
You can park there on the side of the road almost directly across from the apron and begin to cross the river. Make sure you put your skis on your backpack and have all hands free to use your ski poles for balance across it, or you'll be in for 2.5 hours of hiking in soggy boots.
You'll bushwack for 10 minutes before arriving to the apron, where you can skin up the apron for about 1,000ft vert before the couloir begins.
To drop weight, we left our skins and Daymakers alpine adapters here at the base. The hike takes about an hour and a half to two hours depending on your pace. Pay attention to potential windloading spots, and the terrain that lies above to your right. There's a massive cornice on the right bowl that could certainly end your day if it were to collapse. You can check snow and avalanche conditions via www.sierraavalanchecenter.org . As you're hiking, it's likely the desert sun will be shining directly into your face. Bring some sort of coverage and hat or you'll be on a sure road to terminal skin cancer.
The way down is a glorious descent from 10,000 to 8800 feet of beautiful slot walls and a desert overlook that few places in the world can match.
For the young buck Alex, his first backcountry mission certainly was a classic. After the descent and river crossing, we carried our tired bodies back to the truck, driving back to salt lake in a beautiful sunset lost in the daze once again of what we could ski on these endless western roads.