The Ruby Mountains

Sean Johnson rolled down the window and let in the cool desert air, sticking his face into the turbulent wind like an overheated mutt in summer. The sight of snowcapped mountain peaks in the far distance began to make him shiver, so he rolled the window back up and turned on the heater. Sleepiness attacked once again, and he rested his head on the steering wheel. Johnny Cash fit the landscape to a tee, but now he wished he’d brought along something harder, faster, louder. He looked over at his headphone-clad passenger, who was fast asleep, and cursed him under his breath for not having a driver’s license. The road was straight as far as he could see, so he closed his eyes for a moment. The truck stayed centered in its lane. He closed them again.

The screeching of the brakes did little to slow the truck. Johnson cursed. The cows mooed. Blood blanketed the windshield. Johnson yanked the wheel hard to the left, narrowly missing a second bull. One of the back wheels slipped off the pavement and the rear end began to fishtail, Johnson threw the wheel from side to side, trying to straighten out, and slammed down on the windshield-wiper lever–water smeared and thinned the blood. He strained to see. A horn blew. He yanked the wheel to the right. The window became transparent just as the telephone pole came into view.

Elijah Valencia’s face flew into the dash and catapulted back into the headrest. The seatbelt strained against his frame, creaking with the snapping of ribs and went limp. He opened his eyes ’til they bulged, attempting to gasp for air. From the corner of one eye, Elijah watched Johnson’s feet following the rest of his body as he flew out the windshield.

Rays of light shimmered off the flying glass, mixing with the dust and jagged shards of metal and plastic. Warmness poured down Elijah’s neck and streamed down the valley of his chest before pooling in his lap. He thought maybe it was coffee, but then he remembered having none. Motionless, he sat taking short shallow breaths. The scents of sagebrush and gasoline hung in the air. He moved his tongue slowly from side to side, and in waves of blood and shattered teeth, cleared his mouth. Smoke crept inside the cab and swirled about. Flames raced from beneath the hood. He could feel them on his face. The heat intensified. His face began to burn and he cried out, although his pleas went unheard. The pain was intense, but lasted only seconds.

His demise seemed surreal to him. He felt Johnson’s fate would have served him better, flopping headless in the sand and cinders of the roadside, making up for those years of torturing fish from along the streamside. There was nothing he could do now, except wait. Memories of time spent in far away places abounded in his head. The cool sand shifted beneath his feet with each step. He reached out and grabbed his girl’s hand. The sun dropped below the giant palms and dipped into the phosphorous water. Waves crashed against the shore. His skin melted onto the floorboard below. Fat and muscle sizzled in the flames–barbecues in the tropics are swell.

“That story is coming up short, Nate.”

“What do you mean, Johnson?”

“It sounds like you’re wrote that for a high-school creative writing class.”

“I did and I got an F”

“Just tell them about the trip, dude.”

Visiting the Ruby Mountains was something I’ve wanted to do since Ian Ruhter and I first drove past the range some six years ago. We were on our way to Wolf Creek, Colorado, but the details of that particular drive resulted in another story. Winters came and went, and we still hadn’t made it there. Eventually, our window of opportunity to take such a trip disappeared and was replaced by jobs at Caesar’s Tahoe, where I bused tables at Planet Hollywood and Ruht played the role of a barck for one of the casino’s bars. In due time, we both managed to weasel out of those beat jobs and land ones that would once again allow us to travel and work together.

When the opportunity for me to go to the Ruby Mountains arose, it should come as no surprise that I wanted Ruhter to photograph the trip. Along with Sean Johnson, Elijah Valencia, Joel Mahaffey, and Michele Taggart, TransWorld Senior Photographer Mark Gallup would be there (with Ruhter) to shoot photos and act as the responsible adult.

From South Lake Tahoe, the Ruby Mountains and our final destination, the town of Lamoille, is a six-hour eastward jaunt through the desert of Nevada on Interstate 80. The drive was boring and uneventful, despite the multiple AM/PM-Taco Bell hybrids that litter the drive. We arrived around midnight at the Pine Lodge and lifted up the welcome mat to find the keys the innkeeper had left us.

The next morning we awoke to twenty-plus mule deer feeding on the lawn, and we walked the length of the town (about half a block) to O’Carrol’s. Joe Royer, who along with his wife owns and operates Ruby Mountain Heli, showed up there with one of his guides named Eric, just as the sketchy-looking cowboy at the end of the bar ordered his third drink of the morning. I devoured my bricks and glue while Joe briefed us on the following days’ events and got us to sign liability waivers. We paid for our breakfasts and followed Joe down a dirt road toward the lodge.

The bumpy road mixed my stomach’s contents together like a five-dollar blender, and by the time the helicopter came into view, I was dreading my virgin flight. We turned into the driveway of Red’s Ranch and parked our cars a few-hundred feet from the heli. The operation’s employees lined up to introduce themselves, and Eric began a rundown of what not to do around a helicopter, for example, “It’s not a good idea to stick your hand in the moving rotor.”

Next, it was time for a mock rescue using avalanche transceivers. Hiding the device prior to our arrival made the drill more realistic, but Ruhter finding the transceiver under a cow patty made it funny. We were divided into two groups, and after throwing on our gear, I boarded the helicopter with the first group. Behind the controls was Bob the pilot.

The heli flew low over the Lamoille Valley and its many cattle ranches before flying into the gut of the Ruby Mountains via Lamoille Canyon. The canyon’s walls were rocky and steep, and on the bottom of the valley floor was a road that allowed snowmobile access to the mountains. Bob turned the bird out of the valley and ascended one of the larger peaks close to the ground. When we reached the top, the bottom of the ’copter felt like it dropped out into the valley below, and the wind rattled the cockpit. My knuckles grew whiter and whiter as we dove into the valley below, giving us the same view a goldfish gets when its bowl is inadvertently knocked to the floor. My calm returned when we landed in a saddle between two peaks. The ’copter flew to base, got the second group from the lodge, and had returned within five minutes.

The terrain we flew to and rode varied greatly: steep chutes, not-so-steep chutes, wide-open bowls, cliffs, trees, et cetera. Johnson and Mahaffey found some pretty hairball lines, Elijah dropped some pretty good cliffs, and Michele tested her knee with some pow turns.

The snow in the Ruby Mountains has little moisture, making it super dry and fluffy, so where there was lots of powder, it was amazing. But in the areas lacking snow, the razor-sharp volcanic rocks lurking beneath the surface reminded the crew that a headplant would likely result in some sort of trauma.

On the days when the helicopter didn’t fly due to weather, we rode snowmobiles up the Lamoille Canyon road. Although we were able to access some of the same terrain we helied to, that road was the most brutal I’ve ever been on and my spleen still hurts to this day. Storms roll into the range rather quickly, and on one occasion, Johnson and I slowed our sleds to five miles an hour as we suffered through the bumps in a total whiteout.

Off the mountain, the time spent at Red’s Ranch was pretty sick. Red’s is located in the middle of Lamoille Valley, surrounded by cattle ranches, horse corrals, and giant trees. The ranch’s French doors open up to hardwood floors covered by huge handmade rugs, walls littered with old cowboy photographs and memorabilia, and giant vaulted pine ceilings. A large fireplace sits in the middle of the living room, and different animal heads hang above and to the side. If we’d been there during Johnson’s Whiskey days, his head probably would’ve replaced the buffalo’s. Clients of the operation showed up after our first day in their SUVs, and by nightfall we were socializing with doctors, lawyers, and dotcommers. Joe’s wife Francy turned out to be one hell of a nice lady, and after discovering what a good cook she was, I liked her even more. Dinners went off. Along with the amazing food, many bottles of wine were consumed as the table’s occupants shared stories of each day’s events. Of the twelve clients, only three besides us were snowboarders–the rest skiers.

Nightlife was pretty hurting in the town of Lamoille, but we did drive to Elko, where the casinos, brothels, and silver mines offered us wholesome Nevada-style fun. Other nights were spent playing pool and talking story. Some of the employees said that Red, who’s buried in the backyard, haunts the house, but he made no appearances to us–not even late at night or when Michele tried to stand on the mantle to get a picture with the buffalo, and the mantle ripped from the wall.

That was about all the mayhem that transpired on the trip. So if you want to get away from the ills and stress of society, this place might just be what you’re looking for.

For more information on Ruby Mountain Heli, visit their Web site at helicopterskiing.com or call (775) 753-6867. To see this story on our Web site, go to: transworldsnowboarding/features/00/2507.html or transworldsnowboarding/features/00/2524.html.

d to, that road was the most brutal I’ve ever been on and my spleen still hurts to this day. Storms roll into the range rather quickly, and on one occasion, Johnson and I slowed our sleds to five miles an hour as we suffered through the bumps in a total whiteout.

Off the mountain, the time spent at Red’s Ranch was pretty sick. Red’s is located in the middle of Lamoille Valley, surrounded by cattle ranches, horse corrals, and giant trees. The ranch’s French doors open up to hardwood floors covered by huge handmade rugs, walls littered with old cowboy photographs and memorabilia, and giant vaulted pine ceilings. A large fireplace sits in the middle of the living room, and different animal heads hang above and to the side. If we’d been there during Johnson’s Whiskey days, his head probably would’ve replaced the buffalo’s. Clients of the operation showed up after our first day in their SUVs, and by nightfall we were socializing with doctors, lawyers, and dotcommers. Joe’s wife Francy turned out to be one hell of a nice lady, and after discovering what a good cook she was, I liked her even more. Dinners went off. Along with the amazing food, many bottles of wine were consumed as the table’s occupants shared stories of each day’s events. Of the twelve clients, only three besides us were snowboarders–the rest skiers.

Nightlife was pretty hurting in the town of Lamoille, but we did drive to Elko, where the casinos, brothels, and silver mines offered us wholesome Nevada-style fun. Other nights were spent playing pool and talking story. Some of the employees said that Red, who’s buried in the backyard, haunts the house, but he made no appearances to us–not even late at night or when Michele tried to stand on the mantle to get a picture with the buffalo, and the mantle ripped from the wall.

That was about all the mayhem that transpired on the trip. So if you want to get away from the ills and stress of society, this place might just be what you’re looking for.

For more information on Ruby Mountain Heli, visit their Web site at helicopterskiing.com or call (775) 753-6867. To see this story on our Web site, go to: transworldsnowboarding/features/00/2507.html or transworldsnowboarding/features/00/2524.html.