My stomach cramped and my bowels shifted, I tried to breathe to ease the uneasiness. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. It was now or never, I opened my mouth, and prepared myself for the worst. There it was, rolling out of my stomach, up through my esophagus, and into my throat. Oh, God help me! Wait a second, nothing happened. Just a mellow burp, stemming from days of eating beef jerky and convenience store novelties. I sighed in relief as everyone in the cockpit winced when they caught wind of it. An apology would do no justice for this crime, so I simply acted innocent. A quick slide of the heli’s window and the stench was gone, leaving nothing but a view of the Ruby Mountains which jetted straight out in front of us from the valley floor.
Bob steered the copter into Lamoille Canyon; a deep canyon with a road frequented by hicks with tricked out sleds laid right through the middle of it. On the left side of the canyon were sheer rock cliffs in which big horn sheep and shaggy, white mountain goats frolicked. On the right side of the road there was a meandering stream and several other canyons that forked off in various directions. Bob jockeyed his way over peaks higher than 11,000 feet and dove into valleys thousands of feet below. I wish I had on my Walkman with some Credence or Stones ’cause then it would have been just like one of those Nam movies, man. Instead I sang some Natalie Imbruglia, which always seems to get my adrenaline pumping.
In no time, we were approaching our LZ (that’s short for landing zone, not to be mistaken for the LBC) and Bob sat the bird down on a shelf in the middle of a huge open face, laden with rock bands and rollers. Everyone, save the pilot, hopped out and held onto their gear as the rotors kicked up snow and wind and then disappeared into the distance. Three minutes later it returned and the rest of the crew got out.
It hadn’t stormed in a week, but the snow was still powdery and the terrain looked fairly promising. Johnson and Mahaffey scoped their lines and got a lift to the top of the face and began to weasel their way into position. Johnson’s route required him to hike up a steep ass pitch, through rotten snow, in which several of his boot holes gave way to bottomless holes, a result of the snow melting away from the rocks beneath it. He eventually made it on top of a large cliff band and did a mellow Indy off about a twenty-five footer. Mahaffey traversed under his line and dropped a smaller rock band below. On the way back down to the copter Elijah dropped a cornice and Michelle tested her knee by doing a few surf slashes. By the time we made it back to the LZ, flat light had encompassed the valley and a storm began to threaten. Joe decided to call it a day, and we got back in the bird for a semi-frightening ride to back to Red’s, due to the high winds blowing over the ridges.
Red’s Ranch is a gigantic ranch in the middle of the Lamoille Valley. Surrounded by cattle, horses, and giant trees, one look at Red’s and I knew this trip was going to be sick. We left the boards at the heli pad and we walked down the dirt road a hundred yards to the main lodge. I opened the French doors and peered inside. Are you serious, they were allowing us to stay there. The hard wood floor was covered by huge handmade carpets, the walls with old cowboy photographs, and memorabilia. To the right was a piano, to the left was a hat rack overflowing with cowboy hats incase one of the guests forgot theirs. I turned the corner and entered a giant social room, with open pine ceilings and a large fireplace. On the side of the walls, a different animal head set the tone for Red’s Ranch and boy was I glad I wasn’t here with Johnson four years ago filming for the Whiskey movie, otherwise his head probably would have replaced the buffalo’s better half above the fireplace. As we unpacked, clients of the operation sporadically showed up in their SUV’s and by nightfall we were socializing with doctors, lawyerss, and Dotcommers. For dinner, Joe’s wife Francy went to town and concocted a feast that would have gave that Essence of Emiril character a run for his money. Wine was consumed as the table shared stories and the client’s seem infatuated more so than disturbed by our presence. Out of the twelve clients only three turned out to be snowboarders, the rest diehard skiers.
After dinner, most of the guest went to sleep, however a few stayed up and conversed near the fire. Ian and Joel were schooling the pool table and after getting pretty cocky about their skill level, were propositioned by two of the guests for a challenge. The challengers were middle-aged men from the Silicon Valley; they wore hiking boots and tight jeans in which their T-shirts were neatly tucked into. They had some skills, too and seemed all too happy when they repeatedly beat Ruht and Mahaffey. The Keystones’ must have been taking its effect ’cause the trash talking immediately ensued. At one point of the game, Ian suggested that one of the men’s pants were too tight to make a shot. The man took Ian’s advice and unzipped his fly part way, and pulled his pants halfway down his ass, exposing his plaid boxers. The man then proceeded to make the shot and play the rest of the game with his pants like that. By the time the game was over, I had learned a little about stock options and the men had learned that they need more than a little fashion advice to beat Joel and Ian again.
I walked outside where it had begun to snow and headed to my room to sleep. As I bounced in and out of consciousness, my brain was filled with all sorts of images inspired by my surroundings: wild horses running through knee deep powder, cowboys sipping moonshine by the fire, and miles and miles of uninhabited land.
The next three days turned out to be a five star version of that dream. We rode in the helicopter to giant powder fields, we ate gourmet meals and conversed by the fire, and for those who were looking for peace and solidarity, it was easily found amongst the vast wilderness and ranches of the Lamoille Valley. Despite the fact that our group didn’t come across one single handrail for four days, we all had a hell of a good time.
Contact info. Rubymtn@helicopterskiing.comPhone (775)753-6867