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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Updated: March 7, 2:47 PM ET
Desert oasis: Nevada's only heli-skiing

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The drive from northern California heading east on Interstate 80 is barren until the flatlands slam into the Wasatch Mountains that border Salt Lake City. Joe Royer, a native of Marin, Calif., made the drive from California to Utah countless times in the 1970s in his quest to ski Utah's powder. Every time Royer would make the 700-plus-mile drive his eyes were drawn to the massive Ruby Mountains just east of Elko, Nevada. The Rubies, dubbed Nevada's Swiss Alps, stretch for 60 miles and reach approximately 11,000 feet.

In the mid 1970s, Royer decided to stop and explore the Ruby Mountains. "We had no idea how the skiing was there and we were excited to find a Utah snowpack in Nevada," says Royer. In 1977, Royer and some partners secured permits and opened the Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience in Lamoille, Nevada. From then on, Nevada had its first -- and to date, only -- heli-skiing operation.

This year, an ample snowpack and a steady stream of clear days have enabled them to open terrain they haven't skied in years and in February, they had a run of 22 days of consecutive skiing, which is rare for heli operations prone to down days.

Royer and his wife Francy operate the lodge-style heli-ski outfitter, where a maximum of 16 guests roll into Red's Ranch for three-day ski packages that offer 39,000 vertical feet of skiing from mid-January to mid-April. The mountains are set against a desert landscape of red rock walls and white pine trees. "It's hard to imagine there are these impressive mountains in the middle of Nevada," says Royer. If bad weather rolls in, Ruby Mountains Heli offers snowcats as backup.

After a breakfast of Francy's famous biscotti, French toast with pecan syrup, maple-roasted bacon and a chorizo frittata, you'll lap terrain averaging between 35 and 45 degrees. That night, you'll dine on buffalo sliders, crimini mushroom soup, grilled beef tenderloin, pan-roasted Idaho golden trout and grilled pork tenderloin, finished off with homemade carrot cake.

The price tag: Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience charges $4,250 for three days of skiing and three nights at Red's Ranch, which includes all meals, Rossignol S7 skis, avalanche gear and professional guide service. Packages are offered Friday through Sunday or Monday through Wednesday. On Thursdays, you can hop aboard a chopper for $1,375 for 13,000 feet of vertical. Or sign up for their standby email list and fill a seat for $750.

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