Ski the Rubies: Heli Skiing in Nevada

Who knew Nevada had anything besides casinos and clubs? Joe Royer of Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience did and built an empire. This is his story.
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When Joe Royer locked in 200,000 acres of saw-toothed Nevada mountain wilderness 32 years ago, he was broke, feisty, and determined. Guests stayed at a nearby roadhouse, and the nightlife was as rowdy as the skiing.

Today his operation is decidedly more upgraded. Guests stay in a western lodge on a 125-acre ranch. They fuel their days with gourmet meals planned—and often cooked—by Francie Royer, a gourmet pastry chef who forewent a storied restaurant career in exchange for a life in the mountains. Masseuses come to your room at the end of the day, and a sophisticated wine and appetizer hour precedes dinner.

That’s not to say Ruby Mountain is all about creature comforts. With one A-Star helicopter, a guide roster of some of the country’s best avalanche forecasters and ski patrollers, and with the Rubies themselves looming just out the back door, Royer’s operation is, as they say in the West, “a diamond in the rough.”

The bird flies straight from the ranch. Skimming over cow pastures blanketed with snow and sagebrush, the helicopter hooks right and plunges into the towering peaks that hide incredible steeps, gigantic bowls, and unreasonable couloirs. I visited in late January, the second trip of the season. Although it hadn’t snowed in a week, boot-deep powder was the cut off. Most of the time, the snow reached my knees.

Day one was freezing cold with clouds so thick you could barely see five feet in front of you. So we went cat skiing. In the protected, untouched trees. The runs weren’t the 2,000-plus foot leg burners I’d drooled over. Instead I had to “make do” with 1,000 vertical feet, knee-to-thigh deep, cold smoke. Over and over again. Tough life.

Day two dawned bright and blue.

I’ve lived in the West my entire life. I’ve been in helicopters before. I’m a skier first and foremost. I thought I knew what to expect. But when I watched the Nevada’s Great Basin—an expansive desert home to more cattle than people—roll away from sharp, steep granite peaks, and then you land on narrow ridges amidst pine forests and drop in to a steep bowl overflowing with hero snow, I knew one thing for sure: This is what it means to ski in the West.

Joe knew it all along.

Ruby Mountain Heli-Experience Facts

Range:

Nevada’s Ruby Mountains span 60 miles long and 12 miles wide in the state’s Great Basin.

Terrain:

The only heliskiing permit in the Rubies, RMH territory covers 200,000 square miles with everything from pucker-face steeps to bombastic, low-angle cruisers through the forest.

Snowfall:

More than 300 inches a year.

Lodge:

The 125-acre Reds Ranch has 10 guestrooms and serves up gourmet meals.

Getting There:

Lamoille is 20 miles southeast of Elko, which has an airport.

What you get:

39,000 vertical feet over three days, including snowcat skiing at reduced rates if weather prevents helicopter flight.

Cost:

$4,100 per person based on double occupancy, includes three nights lodging, all meals (alcohol not included), heli-skiing, guide service and ski rental.

Day rates also available.

Info:

HelicopterSkiing.com

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