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Ski Resort Life

Rent Your Own Ski Resort: Turner Mountain, Montana

There’s no such thing as a secret stash anymore. So how do you keep your line fresh? Own it. It’s only $2,500 a day. You can do this at Turner Mountain.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Read about how to rent Turner Mountain for the day.

Meet the guy who runs the place, plus get his wife Mary Jo’s tasty caramel bar recipe.

Check out a photo booth gallery of the day we rented the mountain.

There’s a sticker you’ll see on truck bumpers in western Canada. It says, logging feeds my family.

Clever move, logging industry. Your sticker outflanks the greenies. None of them would advocate starving children and, with one sticker, forest-killers have managed to defend the indefensible.
I need their help. Seems I have a small public-relations problem on my hands. If I had my own defense-of-job bumper sticker it would cover both brake lights. This is because it would say, i convince others to show me their secret stashes, then violate their sanctity. i do this for money.
There are terms for people like me. Bitch. Snitch. Traitor. Bottom feeder. I am all of them and more, but these are the printable ones.

The very first time I saw my name in print it followed 53 words about a semisecret shortcut from Calgary to Fernie. That was 1999. More secrets followed. Video Peak in 2000. The Perry River drainage in 2001. Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia in 2004. Gros Morne National Park in 2005. The Foxfauna glacier in 2006. Nakusp. Powder King. Montezuma. And now Turner Mountain, a non-profit community ski hill in northern Montana that you can rent for a day.

I am the editor of this magazine and have spent 10 years sharing my brothers’ and sisters’ secrets with millions of people. All the while, I expected to find fresh snow waiting for me when I was ready to look for it. Essentially, I spent a decade soiling my own bed without noticing the stench.
Until one day this past April. After mountain biking up a closed road for 30 minutes, skinning for two hours, and bootpacking another 30 minutes to a summit, there was nothing left to ski but tracks. Suddenly, my bed smelled terrible.

This is what happens when you run covers with screaming headlines that start with “The Next Great” or “The Ultimate.” You run these headlines not because you want to but because they sell magazines. I would love to fall on my knees and beg for forgiveness, for I have sinned, but there is no mercy. Only tracks.

Secret stashes—the lines that are hidden in plain sight, a short hike away, or on “unknown” mountains—are dead. The media has written the epitaph and purchased the flowers. Go on, hate us. But secrets are just as likely to get knocked off by others who don’t do this for money. If someone skis so much as a snow-covered zit, he’s bragging about it in an online forum. His post is furnished with photos of his lawyer friend, as stuck in the backseat as an empty Slurpee cup. Even if the shots are terrible, and they usually are, his post will get 200 comments telling him how great he is. Members chime in with digital reach-arounds, giving each other “vibes” and a “FKNA.”
These are communities, and every community tells itself lies. It has to. These are the laws of informal social control that maintain civility. Loserdom, then, is de facto encouraged. Which means that secrets, even the bad ones, are revealed on the daily because there is no censure in the feedback loop. The entire process of defiling secrecy—the skiing, the uploading, and the commentary—has become a perpetual-motion machine.

This is why you’ll find tracks from the Cascades to the Caucasus. At Whistler, Snowbird, and Jackson, “No friends on a powder day” is modified to “No friends on powder hour.” Those 60 minutes of jihad begin as soon as patrol has gratuitously finished making the mountain safe for the rest of us. But the redcoats account for only about 30 tracks or so; locals know every lane in every glade, every pillow line, double-drop, and couloir. Today, thanks to the internet, so does every British tourist.

The backcountry is a crapshoot too. No one has any reliable stats about how many skiers venture outside resort boundaries. But backcountry travel has increased by an order of magnitude. In many ranges, even the skin tracks are overrun. So it’s R.I.P., secret stashes. They are over. The idea of riding a lift three days after a storm and finding powder is as faded and nostalgic as Woodstock. The only way to find a guaranteed fresh line is to wake up earlier, buy maps, plot, plan, go farther, and keep driving past car-smothered trailheads for somewhere else.

And if you don’t? How do you ensure that your line stays fresh? Own it—you have to own a ski hill. You do this at Turner Mountain, Montana. It’s a real mountain, too. A crude plywood map at the base shows that the mountain has just 25 marked runs. All are black but eight. And those 25 runs cover 400 skiable acres and 2,110 vertical feet. The mountain is open from Friday through Sunday but stays closed all week. All it takes to open it is $2,500 a day, payable by check or cash. So if you’re smart, you wait while it’s closed on Monday through Wednesday and hope it snows during the shuttered days. If everything goes according to plan, the snow piles up while Turner is shut. Then you rent the hill for Thursday. Only Thursday ceases to be shitty old Thursday. It’s become Big Thursday. Then you invite a few of your best friends and shred.

You don’t keep your line fresh by being a good owner. You’ve got to be an asshole. You cherry-pick the customers. You choose when you want the lifts to start and stop. Cap the number of guests. Keep the rippers off your mountain so all the best stashes are for you. Bury a keg right in the lift line and make sure that no one touches it until you and only you decide it’s cold enough for end-of-day keg stands. You do practically whatever you want so long as you don’t burn the place down.

So I did. I invited the entire Skiing staff and a few buddies, but mostly I invited the locals who love to ski at Turner. Like the guy who works for Fish and Game. The lady who works as the town clerk. The kid with an Afro who skipped school along with his buddy who was entirely in black, down to the gloves. I bought the keg and dug a hole for it next to the lift. And I bought everyone a lodge cheeseburger (only $4.50 each). Aside from burning it down, the only thing I couldn’t do was park the truck in the lift line. That was kiboshed. Other than that, I was ready to ski pow all day.
Only my plan went to shit. It hadn’t snowed in weeks. Big Thursday, which I flew and drove 10 hours for, was more of a Medium Thursday. This is the reality of the rental: Even if you own it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll nail it.

I was choked. The only thing that cheered me up was meeting the mountain manager upon arrival. The first words that came out of John Jeresek’s mouth gave me maniacal, liver-splitting joy: “We’ll turn on the lifts whenever you’re ready. It’s your mountain today.”

Jeresek spoke calmly and through his teeth. The teeth were housed under a small reddish mustache about 10 inches below a camouflage fleece beanie. Jeresek, one of five volunteers on the board of directors, was running the operations of the one-chair paradise that is Turner Mountain.

Turner stands just outside of Libby, Montana, a woodsy mining community that has a complicated relationship with asbestos. You’d never know it from looking at this town set beside a beautiful river. Greg Gilden, 52, a local with a long black beard and a white potato-sack-shaped jacket pinched from an Army mountain division, offered to explain as we rode the slow double chair.

“Asbestos is serious, but the mine wasn’t the problem,” he said. “Back then, no one knew it was dangerous. Libby’s miners would bring it home and spread it in their gardens. They spread that shit from hell to breakfast.” He told me the class-action suit surrounding myriad cancers was beginning the very next week. (The town would ultimately lose.)

I told him I felt sorry for the town but Greg just shrugged and offered me a tour of Turner’s byzantine glades. The double chair crested the top 12 minutes after we first sat down, and Greg spotted Dave Anderson. We skied up to Dave and Greg bowed out of the tour. Dave and I shook gloved hands and Greg took off to let his Rossi race skis run.

Anderson wore a patroller uniform. “My dad built this place,” said Dave. “I’ve been skiing here since the mountain opened in 1962 and know it as well as anyone.”
This was true. Dave cut the glades himself with his buddies. His friends cut brush for free in the summers, so no money changed hands. They cut in exchange for a season pass, in keeping with the policy of not paying any employees but the lifties—like the 300-pound guy with the ponytail who kept stuffing his lip with Copenhagen.

Anderson took me on a narrow traverse through a thick wig of deciduous tangle. It led to a slightly more open fall line, flagpole-straight. It hadn’t snowed in days but sure enough, I found a soft cushion under my feet that made an audible smush. I planted a pole into a clump of the wig and turned around its temple. Smush. Snow slapped onto my jacket. I looked through the dark and focused on light, reading the path of Dave’s chainsaw work. I picked up speed. Smush. Right away I knew this was the best line on the mountain. And I reconsidered. Maybe there is such thing as a lift-accessed secret. You just need the right friends. And maybe you don’t need to own your stash, but it certainly helps.

Dave stopped to my right. “This is the end,” he said. He’d spotted a small piece of orange blaze tape tied around a tree. He told me to stay in his track. Dave traversed right and picked up speed. He pumped through flats and sucked up bumps. Dave sent a small field goal between two narrow trees. I ducked three branches and shot my hands forward, attempting to collapse my shoulders together to make myself small enough to poke through a narrow door frame of tree trunks.
Finally, the traverse popped us onto a groomer near the bottom. “Let’s do one more,” Dave said.
As we pushed off for the chair, Dave got a call on his radio. My mountain had its first injury of the day—a kid with a broken collarbone. Dave and the handful of other patrollers had it under control. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get sued so I went skiing.

I tucked the groomer to the bottom. When I got there I felt compelled to say, “Hey, everyone, Dave just showed me his secret line!”

But I didn’t. I did something worse: I showed Dave’s glade to a couple of the Skiing crew. We found the entrance OK but lost our bearings in the thick woods. There were no perfectly cut glades, no blaze tape, and no tracks to follow. I missed the line entirely. Instead, I led two of my buds through 1,500 feet of brush that whipped our faces. It left us on the ski-area road with a 400-yard slog back to Turner. Terrible.

As we walked back, I remembered Dave’s admonition, just after we finished skiing the glade: “Just don’t fucking tell anybody.” I embarrassed myself, got whipped in the face, had to slog on the snow-covered road, and deserved it.

Truly, there is no mercy. Only tracks.