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Photo By Dan Davis
Remote and rowdy: heli-skiing Nevada's Ruby Mountains
A snow oasis among desolate mining, gambling towns of the Great Basin
By David O. Williams

April 3, 2007 — LAMOILLE, Nev. – The Come Line in the remote Ruby Mountains of north-central Nevada is a 2,000-vertical-foot mine shaft of a ski run where the chief chemical extracted these days is adrenaline.

It’s the signature run of Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing (RMH), and double entendre aside, the Come Line lives up to its billing as one of the most satisfying and memorable heli-skiing runs in the lower 48 states.

“The Come Line is like AK light,” said Vail-based restaurateur and veteran heli-skier John Alfond. “It’s all of the enjoyment and the vertical of skiing Alaska without any of the fear.”

Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing fast facts

The range: The Ruby Mountains in Nevada’s Great Basin are 60 miles long and about 12 miles wide, with 10 peaks surpassing 11,000 feet.

The terrain: The only heli-skiing permit in the Rubies, RMH can fly in a 200,000 square miles of high-desert terrain ranging from 40-degree jump-turn steeps to low-angle, wide-open tree runs.

The snow: More than 300 inches a year – very light and very dry.

The run: The Come Line is a spectacular, 2,000-vertical-foot couloir notched into the side of a mountain.

The lodge: Reds Ranch is a 125-acre spread with a beautiful 10-room mountain lodge.

The trip: Lamoille is 20 miles southeast of Elko, which is 240 miles west of Salt Lake City on Interstate 80. Flights from Denver to Elko cost about $400.

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

The cost: $3,500 per person based on double occupancy, includes three nights lodging, all meals (alcohol not included), heli-skiing, guide service and ski rental. Day rates based on availability.

The contact: Go to , email or call (775) 753-6867.

The run begins in a rock-notch of a pass high in the Rubies – a surprisingly big mountain range with 10 peaks over 11,000 feet in Nevada’s desolate Great Basin – and takes skiers on a steep-and-deep ride through a third-of-a-mile slot canyon turned on its end.

Named for a bet in the dice game craps, the Come Line boasts Alaskan heli-skiing length if not steepness that delivers an enormous payoff for anyone lucky enough to get into it soon after a snowstorm.

“This place doesn’t get the hip-deep snorkel snow (of Canadian or Alaskan heli-skiing operations), but our experience has been that because it’s so cold here the snow’s just so nice and dry,” said Peter Roshko, a Boulder venture capitalist who’s skied RMH with a group of friends the past several years. “And I really like the terrain.”

Roshko says there are steeper runs than the Come Line, as well as plenty of long, low-angle powder runs through the high-desert canyons and spires dotted with bristlecone and white pines. Imagine a high-altitude Canyonlands loaded with more than 300 inches of snow a year.

But the skiing is only part of the story in the Ruby Mountains, misnamed when prospecting soldiers optimistically mistook worthless garnets for rubies during the gold rush of the 1800s.

Elko County remains a rough-and-tumble collection of miners, cowboys, Native Americans, gamblers, prostitutes and the odd heli-skier passing through on their way to Lamoille, the small ranching town 20 miles southeast of Elko that’s home to RMH.

RMH founder and owner Joe Royer, who’s celebrating his 30th season in the heli-skiing business, admits the county seat of Elko has its rough edges – “We work really hard not to fall into the parameters of Elko” – but that edginess is actually part of the attraction for some of his guests.

“I just like the feeling of the Great Basin and northern Nevada,” Roshko said. “It’s real Wild West. Go hanging around in Lamoille and go to all the little bars and it feels kind of Old Western. I like that - old roughnecks, guys working the mines. I really like the whole atmosphere.”

Royer, though, has carved out a high-end destination niche in Lamoille, where his leased Bell 407 helicopter sits spotlighted in a cow pasture at night awaiting loads of eager heli-skiers the next morning.

The operation’s 10-room lodge on 125-acre Reds Ranch is a more intimate version of the opulent Canadian heli-skiing facilities, and a gourmet chef relentlessly carbo-loads the guests for the guaranteed 40,000 vertical feet of skiing over three days.

Royer stumbled on the Rubies in the mid-70s while commuting between his Marin County, Calif., childhood home and Snowbird, Utah, where he’d worked his way up from dishwasher to ski patroller at one of America’s steepest and most demanding mountains.

As Royer puts it, he “barred up” for a few days in the Lamoille then began exploring the Rubies by hitching rides on passing snowmobiles, using skis and a tow rope. After a few too many rides behind slednecking cowboys who thought it was funny to see if Royer could hang on at high speeds, he decided the Rubies might be more easily accessed by helicopter.

He agrees he’s about as far away from “civilization” as you can get in the continental U.S., but says he’d have it no other way.

“I was always in trouble, so this was a good spot for me to stay out of trouble,” Royer said of Lamoille’s remoteness and his formerly wild, ski-bumming ways. “But it’s always been tough to market a location that’s really centered in the middle of Nevada. People just don’t realize what we have out here.”

And Elko and the surrounding area is the anti-Vegas, he admits, in the same sense that Salt Lake City and its surrounding ski areas are culturally the antithesis of the Bay Area: “Snowbird is 20 years behind Marin, and Elko is 20 years behind Snowbird,” Royer said.

But backwardness isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to carving out a heli-skiing niche. It tends to stave off the fur-clad masses and keep the skiing real and relatively off the radar.



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