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High winds delay Turner opening

| December 19, 2006 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Tom Kujawa never skied at Turner Mountain last year, so he wasn't about to miss Friday's season opener.

Although the 21-year-old former Libby resident made it to Turner, he and 75 other hopeful skiers never hit the slopes.

For the first time in Turner Mountain's 47-year history, the ski resort was shut down due to high winds. Opening day was delayed until Saturday, when 150 people showed.

"It was a good day, unfortunately our groomer was broken down," said Bruce Zwang, president of Kootenai Winter Sports. The non-profit group oversees the all-volunteer operated ski area 22 miles north of Libby off Pipe Creek Road.

Only 40 turned out Sunday, possibly because of the lack of grooming, Zwang said.

"We are working at getting that corrected by this weekend," he said.

One hour after delaying the 9:30 a.m. opening on Friday, Zwang announced that Turner would not open.

"We had estimated wind gusts of 35 mph and sustained winds of 20 mph," Zwang said. "Our chair (lift) can operate in winds of up to 30 mph, but the decision came down to wind-chill factor on the skiers. We were very disappointed."

Kujawa, who two days earlier drove from Montana State University in Bozeman where he is a senior civil engineering major, looked forward to skiing.

"It's the best place to ski because it's steep, deep and cheap," he said.

Jay Forsyth, who serves on Turner's ski patrol, looked forward to skiing and seeing friends. The 31-year-old emergency medical technician at St. John's Lutheran Hospital in Libby hasn't missed opening day at Turner in seven years.

"You get to see the people you don't see all summer long - all the people you don't recognize in their winter clothing," he said.

Kriss Jeresek had hoped to use her new skis for the first time, but was OK with the delayed opening.

"Life goes on," said Jeresek, a retired ski patrol volunteer who's been going to Turner for 28 years.

Sharron Sverdrup, who was at Turner to work ski patrol on Friday, also was somewhat disappointed.

"A couple of weeks ago we hiked to the top and skied," said Sverdrup, an agent with Montana Country Real Estate. "The snow was fantastic."

Libby High School junior Margeaux Zwang skipped school to ski Friday.

"It's the first day and I've waited so long," said Zwang, who began skiing at Turner at age 3 with her parents, Debbie and Dave Zwang.

Anytime Turner is open, Steve Bryant is there, just as he was on Friday.

"I love to ski," said Bryant, who's been going to Turner Mountain since 1977. "Last year I skied every day it was open."

Although disappointed, he still planned to hike up the mountain and ski down. It takes Bryant more than an hour to get to the top and five minutes to get down. He's already done it six times this winter.

"That's back-country skiing," he said.

Turner Mountain is open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday-Sunday. It also will be open during the week between Christmas and New Year's except for Christmas Day.

A full-day lift ticket for adults is $26; half day, $21; and season pass, $330. A full-day pass for juniors and seniors is $21; half day, $16; and season pass, $230.

A family with two adults and two children can ski the season for $720; each additional child is $85 for the season.

Five-day vouchers are available for $105 for adults, and $85 for juniors and seniors before Dec. 24.

Those 6 and under ski free.

To check ski conditions, call 293-4317 or go the Web site, www.skiturner.com.