Turner Mountain

Part of Something Smaller

Driving the first part of the Pipe Creek Road from Libby, MT into the Kootenai National Forest is easy. But past the 12-mile marker, the road is often left unplowed. From there, it’s a half-hour skate along thick ice, which, on this February day, I’m doing in an SUV rental. A nondescript, brown, lunch-tray-sized sign poking out of a waist-deep snowbank signifies arrival. There’s a crudely drawn skier on it, with the words “National Forest” above the figure’s head and “Turner Mountain” in all caps just below his painted-on planks. Three bullet holes dot the little skier’s midsection. This must be the place.

On this sunny Friday morning, roughly 25 cars are in the lot. Turner’s lone double chairlift only spins on weekends and serves up 2,100 vertical feet of terrain to an average of just more than 100 people per day. Next to the lift, a tattered wooden plaque reads, “Purchase tickets in snack bar.” Turner’s base lodge, a humble two-story chalet, is just big enough for a ski patrol room and an equipment rental booth on the first floor, and eight or so picnic tables near the snack bar alongside a cozy fireplace upstairs. This ain’t Deer Valley.

But there’s no need for flash in these parts, and tiny Turner suits little Libby like a well-worn mitt. Located in northwest Montana roughly two hours south of the Canadian border, Libby is a modest town built on mining and logging with less than 3,000 residents who are anything but ostentatious. The potential for outdoor pursuits in Libby is vast, with plenty of good touring terrain, flyfishing and mountain biking throughout the surrounding area. For now, crowds are of little concern here, perhaps because Libby is just emerging from one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in US history…

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