Bill Frazy is a member of the Kootenai Winter Sports Ski Education Foundation, Inc. He, along with a group of five others sit on the current board of directors that man-ages and maintains the Turner Mountain ski area.
The Montanian visited on Saturday, Jan. 20 to learn about a day in the life of one of Turner Mountain’s most dedicated volunteers.
It was abundantly clear that Frazy was important, even indispensable but that so many others contributed too.
Turner Mountain opened in 1960 after a group and is a non-profit 501 © 3 organiza-tion and has been since 2000-2001 said Bruce Zwang, President. Kootenai Winter Sports, the community cor-poration that created Turner has been around since 1960.
He’s joined on the board by John Jeresek, Lonnie Hansen, Scott Kirchenmann, Tony Petrusha and Bill Frazy.
The mountain is Libby’s ski area, of course, but is also the cheapest place in the state of Montana to buy a lift ticket.
The lift is a mile long and was installed in 2001. It re-placed the world’s longest T-bar which was around for nearly 40 years.
When Turner first opened, they had a 1,200 foot rope tow which after one season was replaced by the T-bar.
Frazy who is unofficially the Operations Manager manages the four paid em-ployees. He gets the road plowed, the propane and fuel delivered, he is the guy that worries about all of the little items that if not managed will impact the operation, said Tony Petrusha who is another volunteer member of the organizations board of directors.
According to Petrusha, “Frazy is a friendly, laughing person that personifies Turner Mountain and the family-oriented, fun estab-lishment. Is he the heart—no, is he the season it works—no, there are many good peo-ple who work hard to make it work; but Bill’s approach is unique, and his efforts help to make Turner Mountain a very unique ski area.”
According to David Ander-son “Andy”, chairs were sold for $500 and towers were sold for $1,000 to raise the matching funds for the eco-nomic development grant. Ski swap, fun night. Canadi-ans have donated a lot of money too, “they know we’ve got a gem here.” said Barb.
Larry Hilderman, a volun-teer on ski patrol has been volunteering at Turner Mountain for the past five or six year. He was quick to point out a bunch of others who make the mountain work including Dave Ander-son, John Head, Mike Giesdy, Bill Pepper, David Neuman, Dae Blackburn and Steve Bryant.” These people, Larry said, “have put more time in to this hill than anyone on patrol and then there are all of the other volunteers too.
Another volunteer, Vinnie, said “We are blessed that we don’t have a lot of accidents that need a major response, you can count on one hand the number of times an am-bulance comes up here. But its rewarding to help. It’s what keeps you coming back and we do have a good influx of people helping out that have medical knowledge.”
Dave’s father, Elmer Ander-son was one of the founding members and helped build the ski area.
Until 1997 the ski area had 4 port-a-potties that were used before indoor plumbing was added. Every time we undertake a big pro-ject, said Zwang, “it’s going to be a good snow season.”
Turner has a 40-year special use permit which renewed by the Kootenai National Forest in 1996, so it isn’t set to be renewed again until 2036.
It’s 840 acres offer 25 runs.
In 1997 the Missoulian identified “volunteer help has been the key to keeping costs low at Turner” in a March 16 article. That remains true today.
In march of 1960 the group organized as Kootenai Winter Sports. It was started by a small group of people who wanted a bigger better ski area. Gary Rawles is cred-ited for being the driving force behind the original creation of Turner according to the Missoulian article. Dave Anderson remembers his father Elmer, Dick Hen-nessey and Gene Booty being founders. He was involved in a ski area in Great Falls be-fore moving to Libby to work for J. Neils. The Neils family also provided critical support with the equipment and man-power.
Turner mountain is named for a man in the Civil-ian Conservation Corps who had a cabin near the base of the mountain in the 1930s. According to Frazy, there was a look out until 1961 on the mountain. Turner was the ranger. The mountain was chosen, according to Frazy because “it was accessible, road wise and there weren’t any trees back then.” Fires in 1910 and 1940 had cleared much of the timber from the mountain and made it an ideal location. They also con-sidered Blue Mountain, Quartz Mountain and Hel-mock Creek areas. Fuzzy Spencer, a local logger volun-teered all those years ago to cut the access and it’s been a volunteer led endeavor ever since. J. Neils brought in equipment and had the park-ing lot made. The group was shooting for 2,000 vertical and bigger and better than Ski Dale. Before that, in the 1930s people skied at Remp’s pit.
St. Regis Paper Company paid $1 to the state to con-struct the access road to the base. USFS issued a special use permit. Adults and high school students helped clear the access road, parking lot and lift line areas.
In the fall of 1960, volun-teers installed a 1200 foot rope tow with an initial warming lodge that meas-ured only 20×40 feet.
They sold stock for $10 per share in 1960 and had hoped to raise $100 thou-sand for T-bar, overnight lodging and restaurant. Be-cause of the nearly 2,200 foot vertical drop, Turner could compete with the other ski resorts in the area. In the spring, summer and fall of 1961 the Libby community took on the financing, pur-chase and installation of a custom T-bar. The T-bar was a mile long and required 17 towers to be built and Libby had the longest T-bar in North America. It was done in 10 months. On Jan. 13, 1962 Turner Mountain opened to the public and an opening ceremony was held on Feb. 11 with over 400 people in attendance.
In 1976 Turner went from 320 to 410 acres. And it was again increased in 1992.
Other volunteers include brush cutters, lift mainte-nance crew, building and equipment maintenance, ski patrol, groomers, improve-ments, paperwork and ac-counting, meeting federal regulations.
Prior to Turner, Ski Dale used to be a ski hill with a rope tow and even lights. Turner’s first year of opera-tion, after a few years of look-ing, included a rope tow, a road and a warming hut. They raised about $70,000 to put in the T-bar the following year.
None of the people we interviewed could give us a number of volunteers. Frazy thought there were around 200. Today there are three or four paid employees. A ratio of 50:1. There is a kitchen, ski rentals that are their own businesses and an instructor who teaches both skiing and snowboarding. On any one day, Dave Anderson estimat-ed there are 15-16 volun-teers on the mountain. He was working ski patrol and explained how they have radio contact with the others on ski patrol, the ambulance, hospital and sheriff’s office. The chair lift has a backup motor and there are even plans for evacuation if that can’t run.
We have a lot of great people. Willie Schikora, for example will turn 80 this year and has worked hun-dreds and hundres of hours out here. “over the years there have been hundreds of volunteers up here and that’s what makes this place tick. This is probably one of the only places in the country that operates like this he said. We’ve had generations of volunteers and great talent too. Doctors, dentists, a great variety of people
Frazy said we’re open about 60 days a year but we work the other nine months too to keep things going. He said that he works 100-150 day per year at Turner.
He said “Scott and Tony are invaluable.” Scott is an electrician but as Zwang de-scribed him, he’s also a “jack of all trades.” He was fixing a sink in the kitchen when we were interviewing others on the mountain. When he fin-ished, he didn’t want any credit for his dedication but it was clear by those around him that he wasn’t telling the whole story. “I promote Turner every chance I get, he said. I have cards in my wal-let that say “steep, deep and cheap.” and we’re always looking for volunteers too said Frazy.
Scott got us two load of parts out of Canada to have for our lift. He also designs and makes things happen. Like helping to put a cooling sys-tem on the cone drive that drives the lift.
You can rent the whole hill for $4,000, and that’s really how we survive.
Frazy said “We want to gen-erate public interest, we want public participation.” They get school groups about every two weeks according to Frazy and a lot of Canadi-ans due to a lot with homes in Eureka. Kirchenmann add-ed “I fly a lot and my business cards for Turner get left in every board room I visit, steep, deep and cheap.” He emphasized, we don’t cater to the skiing experience. “we’re just about skiing.”
Tony and Scott just jumped in with both feet. “you’ve got to be sharp to do that and these guys bring expertise that we need and just couldn’t pay for. We lost Scott Jaqueth who was an engineer. “We’re lucky, there that it seems like somebody always shows up.” It’s always been people who care about the hill and just want to see it keep going. I know I do. I prefer to drive the 22 miles to come here. No lines, a good day is a few hundred skiers and sometimes it feels like you’re on the mountain alone. But at the same time it’s like a big family. Barb said “my boys were raised up here. They didn’t have just us, they had everybody watching over them.” Kirchenmann’s wife, Hope echoed that sentiment. Barb remembered going through a pair of gloves a day on the rope too.
Kirchenmann added that it’s about the skiing, not the experience. That’s one of the things that makes Turner unique. “This place wouldn’t operate if it wasn’t for Bill, he’s here every single day.” When the shop burned down on Dec. 4, 2014 he and bill saved the groomers.
Zwang said he works way more than 100 or 150 days per year. He opens the place in the morning and closes it down at night too. “I’ll bet it’s way more than that.”
Zwang said, it was just good luck that they’d been volun-teering that day and were at the lodge when they saw smoke. It was lucky because for some reason they’d decid-ed to do some service work on them so they started. The shop was built in 1992 or 1993.
No alcohol but that doesn’t stop people from tailgating.
Barb Anderson remem-bers how she and her hus-band picked up a 10 p. groomer for the SFS and made it fork for about $500 in the 1980s. They were mar-ried in 1981. Then they got a bigger one and a bigger one, still now, there are two groomers.
This year there are 19 kids enrolled in the 5th grade free ski program which costs only $20 for administration. “It’s perfectly safe to learn to ski or snowboard here. We give lessons and so many people that would be glad to help. You just have to ask. Hope said, I never thought twice about letting my kids go, everybody watches out for them.”
Dave Anderson said “It’s kind of a passion. It’s in my blood and I’m lucky to have the winters off.” he’d been working since Wednesday because the mountain had been rented out.
Zwang estimates, “conservatively, it takes 10,000 volunteer hours to make that place operate.”
It’s hard to pick out individu-als because there are so many that have contributed over the years, he said. “ there are a lot of guys I don’t know what we’d do without.”
Building the lift between the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 ski season, Zwang said, epitomized the volunteer nature of the ski area. We had 6-8 months to do it and had planned to open on Dec. 15. We opened on Jan. 5 The project was massive requir-ing 58 truck loads of con-crete. Each load had to be tested to make sure it met standards for strength. Funds came from donors, grants and a loan from the Libby Area Development Corp.
The business and con-struction plan for the lift was started in the mid to late 1990s. Seven people got to-gether to purchase the used chair lift and then raise mon-ey for redesign and recon-struction. It came from the Snoqualmie resort near Seat-tle and was bought the sum-mer of 1999. The chair was purchased for over a year before the money was raised to install it. Low interest loan approved in April 2001. Dou-ble chair opened on Jan. 4, 2002 and six weeks later an opening ceremony was held. Components were used from three shorter lifts and an engineer had to do the design work. The chair lift is ex-pected to last at least 40 years.
Two crews were working one at the old mill site refin-ishing the grinding, priming and repairing towers and chairs and the other on the mountain prepping the site. Many had jobs and were working their evenings and weekends for months. The towers were put up in July. Many took time off of work to make this happen. There were 126 chairs to sand and repaint. One day they real-ized that 125 of the chairs had been painted green but one was red white and blue and nobody knew why” Art Purdy was working at the mill everyday and he decided to paint one red white and blue so that became chair number one, the American Chair by the Canadians. Callie Blaz repaints it every time now. About four years later we added a Canadian chair which is at #62 or 63 so it’s on the other end opposite of the American chair. Byron Phillips painted the Bobcats chair and there is no Griz chair but according to Zwang, “I’m a griz too, we’d probably be open to a Griz chair but not too many more, it’s really tough to keep up on repaint-ing them.” “The Canadians just loved it when we added the Canadian Chair, they just though it was the nicest thing we could do for them.”
Putting the cable for the chair lift was 11,000 feet and weighed 42,000 pounds on one spool. It cost about $50,000 which pound for pound is cheaper than ham-burger. A pit was dug to crib it and spook it out. Montana Machine loaned a big steel shaft and put tag line in first into all towers. Volunteers hooked into tag line and pulled up the cable by ma-chines. Winch pulling cable up the mountain “If we’d have lost that rope it’d been back to the bottom and took out all the towers with it. We were sweating bullets on that project but luckily we had Pat Hanley who just hap-pened to have the right equipment and volunteered to help.
My son, Jeff Zwang had to jump six feet off the ground onto the snow 126 times when it was time to hang the chairs.
“When opening day finally arrived there were mass amounts of kids skipping school.”
“We want to keep an af-fordable option for local folks, it would be hard to imagine Libby without Turner Mountain, it’s been here for so long.”
According to Zwang, it’s always been like that– guys come and go but we have always been very lucky. What’s built Turner and kept it going is the dedication and quality of the volunteers. Our focus is to keep affordable skiing here in Libby.”
According to a paper writ-ten by Brad Mohr “Turner has survived forty years be-cause of community volun-teers. It would be impossible to name all the people who have helped over the years, yet Turner Mountain is a unique place with a feeling of family and tradition.”