Max your credit cards, you have to try heli-skiing |

Max your credit cards, you have to try heli-skiing

We’ve all heard those glowing stories about heli-skiing, how it is an experience unique to skiing and snowboarding.

All those stories are true.

Last weekend we had the great luck to try heli-skiing in the Ruby Mountains about 20 miles out of Elko. Yes, there is heli-skiing in Nevada, and as a matter of fact it is one of two destination heli-ski operations in the United States. The other is in the Cascades of Oregon.

And heli-skiing is something that almost defies words.

You scramble out of the helicopter on a tiny landing zone, crawl out and huddle while the guide unloads your skis. In moments the chopper is gone in a hurricane of swirling snow and you’re alone with nothing but vast bowls of untracked snow on all sides.

It’s what the backcountry skiers and boarders search for. But unlike the backcountry folk, you’ve been dropped in the wilderness with no way out other than by air.

You’re up high. There is no easy trail down. It’s all untracked and the snow in this case is about 2 feet deep. Your guide points way down to a clump of pine trees perhaps a mile and 1,000 feet of vertical away. “Keep your speed down,” says guide Whitey Nelson. “It’s all yours.”

For someone who has spent probably less than an hour in anything deeper than a few inches, the slope is intimidating. But you’re on “fat boy” Rossignols and you are a good skier.

So you shove off, making turns a bit wider than necessary, but why not? It’s all there and wide open.

You follow your two fellow guests and in moments you find that you can make those figure 8s that you’ve seen so many pictures of. Or you can peel off and explore tree and bush skiing.

When you reach the clump of trees, you stop and exchange big fat grins with the other two guests. And you watch Whitey as he smoothly follows the fall line down the steeps, then bounds effortlessly along the long glide.

This is repeated time after time, stopping only for a sack lunch ferried up by the helicopter, which is by now an old friend. You eat at the Bathhouse, a summer facility at the end of the road going up the Lamoille Canyon. And you can watch the snowmobilers who have ridden their vehicles some 12 miles from Lamoille to the Bathhouse. They drive up a steep incline, seeing how far they can go before running out of steam.

That night you wonder at it all. Did you really make that near-vertical plunge through the deep stuff? Did you take that fall when you hit a hidden rock and wound up with buried skis? Not to worry, your avalanche beacon was working.

And before you doze off, you think that today was the greatest skiing day of your life. Who cares how many feet of vertical (Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski guarantees 39,000 over three days)? Who cares if you’ve maxed your credit cards and your checking account is almost empty?

There are some things that are beyond accounting, and heli-skiing is one of them. The only thing is that you wished you had done it 20 years ago.

Francy and Joe Royer operate the Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski. She’s a former self-described ski bum who evolved into pastry cook at Deer Valley, Utah.

“She keeps us on track,” says Joe, himself a former ski patroller at Squaw Valley.

They’ve been running the Ruby Mountain operation for 22 years – since 1995 at Lamoille in a fantastic ranch with 10 bedrooms and gourmet meals for guests. Joe is every bit the tough mountain guide you would expect.

Bookings are for three-day stays with Snocat backup in case of bad weather. While the price is steep, $2,565, you can go standby for $425 a day. You can get a booklet about their operation by calling (775) 753-6867, or e-mail at

Tell Joe that Sam said you had to do it.

What’s happening

Busy weekend at Northstar-at-Tahoe. Freestyler Glen Plake brings his Wild Wild Hot Dog tour to the ‘star Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is a teaching day as Glen shares his Polish Donut and Worm Turn with students. It’s free with a lift ticket. Glen will be on hand after classes at the Weenie Roast party to sign posters and gab. Sunday is mogul competition, where those taking part have to do a Slow Dog Noodle and Royal, both taught by Glen. Open to men and women for a $10 fee, which will get you a T-shirt, goodie bag and race bib.

Same weekend, Northstar will hold a Mardi Gras fete with all kinds of New Orleans-type fun with music from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Alpine Bar. Then Sunday there will be a Valentine’s Day fun race. Couples will guess their time and the three closest win prizes. Two dollars for one run, $8 for all day.

At Alpine Meadows, Tahoe City and Truckee, students can ski for $5 on Tuesday in a benefit for the Cole Fahrner family. Cole is suffering from a brain tumor. You’ll need a valid ID. Also a Huck-a-Thon is set for Feb. 19 on the halfpipe.

Squaw Valley will hold California State on Winter Games Feb. 13 through 15 as an Olympic amateur sports festival. On Feb. 14, there will be a Mighty Mites slalom event at the Ford Raceway.

Homewood has been having $20 lift ticket days due to the heavy snowfall, which has closed the Ellis chair temporarily. Feb. 12 is Merchants day, $15 lift tickets and $10 Mumbo Jumbo tickets at local merchants.

Kirkwood will hold a torchlight parade on Saturday with fireworks. That is, if they can dig out of all the snow.

At Diamond Peak Feb. 12, there’s a $45 package that includes lift ticket, gourmet lunch, glass of wine for a donation.

And don’t forget about Wintertrails ’99 on Saturday. You can join in the snowshoe feastival at Camp Richardson’s Sports Center. The family outing, part of a nationwide celebration of hiking and snowshoeing, runs from 9 to 3 and if you’ve not tried snowshoeing, this is the time and place to do it.

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