I’m strapped into my snowboard and I just watched three members of my heli-skiing group descend fresh lines, laughing all the way, one at a time, mirroring each others’ turns.
I’ve learned there’s an important rule in heli-skiing: “Pigs eat, hogs get slaughtered.” (Translation: get great turns, but leave some fresh snow for the others.) Now it is my turn. My guide points skier’s left, away from the other lines, at an un-harvested powder field. With the steepest pitch in eye-shot and nary a line in it, I’m drooling. And that’s when my guide gives me the green light to gorge.
Until recently, I didn’t know much about the Ruby Mountains of Nevada. Just outside the city of Elko in eastern Nevada, and about 3.5 hours west from Salt Lake City, this compact mountain range receives the same dry and light snow as Utah’s Wasatch. The Ruby Mountains — long and sinuous and chock-full of spurs — are about 65 miles long and only 15 miles wide.
Peaks in the Ruby range jut past 11,000 feet. They are perfect for helicopter skiing because you can access a lot of different peaks without flying for too long. Ride it for a single day and you’ll realize why the folks at Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing set up a business here in 1977.
On my trip last month, due to weather our first day of skiing started at about noon. We spent the morning waiting out a small storm in the luxurious Reds Ranch going through some avalanche training.
The folks at Reds run the place like a high-end B&B. The food is exquisite and abundant, the dinner menu including entrees like chipotle grilled shrimp, BBQ duck, seared salmon, and pork enchiladas. Guides are also known to wax their clients’ boards and skis the night before.
The lux lodging is accompanied by great riding in the mountains above. On one run, I pointed my board downhill for a few seconds to get speed and then gobbled up big turn after big turn, kicking up rooster tails of snow on an un-tracked descent. For any skier or snowboarder, this is as good as it gets: Fresh lines in the middle of nowhere with no worries about other pow-hungry riders snaking your line.
By day’s end, we had skied seven runs of intermediate and low-expert terrain in six inches of fresh. Another bonus to the trip: Riding a heli never gets old. Everyone was giddy when we got in for our first ride and that never fades. Accessing the backcountry without skins is a luxury that’s second to none.
But all this fun isn’t cheap. The most commonly purchased package here costs $4,250. It includes three days of lodging, breakfast, lunch and gourmet dinner, Rossignol powder skis, heli rides, and guiding service. You’re guaranteed 39,000 vertical feet of skiing during the course of your stay.
Most trips include at least two days of flying and sometimes three if weather cooperates. If there’s a “down day” and the heli can’t fly, snowcats are available. But all runs count toward the capped vertical and once you’ve hit your 39,000-foot limit, you can keep going but all additional runs are extra.
What did I think of skiing in Nevada? It’s better than you’d believe for a state most known for a casino city in the desert. Littered with 11,000-foot peaks, the Rubies get great snow and are flanked with epic, far-from-anything terrain. Add a helicopter, a lux lodge, and some fresh snow and you’ll be smug with your decision to ski in one of the most unlikely mountain ranges of the West.