Yin met yang last month on the slag hill east of Anaconda.
Few would look at the jet black byproduct of smelting copper and imagine an alpine ski ride through its notorious grain.
Especially on a sweltering July day, dressed in a ski parka and pants meant to provide warmth and dexterity while sculpting turns in sheer white powder.
Yet 24-year-old Robert Lester does not live in a black and white world. The Butte native grew up skiing in Discovery west of Anaconda. And when he traveled when he was young in front of the mountain of slag by the chimney of Washoe’s smelter, he stared and marveled.
“That’s when it all started,” Lester said.
The July descent was Lester’s second ski trip to the slag heap. The first took place in August 2020.
“Both times I had permission,” he said, to venture onto the slopes that are part of the Anaconda Smelter Superfund site.
Lester said he received an OK from British Petroleum, the parent company of Atlantic Richfield Co., or ARCO, and Black Diamond, which processed the slag for use in roofing pellets and abrasives.
Still, there has been some regional discord this week as to whether Lester has really been given the green light to venture onto the site to ski the slag.
Charlie Coleman, EPA repair project manager for the Superfund Anaconda Co. Smelter site, said Wednesday that ARCO staff he spoke to denied Lester was allowed to be on the hill of slag. And Coleman wasn’t happy with Lester’s exit.
“We would have really frowned,” he said, noting, among other things, that the EPA had put the kibosh on the distribution to Anaconda of souvenir bags filled with slag due to the potential for ingestion of contaminated dust. .
When US Minerals announced the opening of the Black Diamond processing plant, it said the slag stockpile contained approximately 43 million tonnes of “high quality iron silicate pellets.” Other estimates bring the total to around 41.3 million tonnes.
Contaminants in slag include arsenic and lead.
The Old Works Golf Course uses slag in its bunkers for a course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Lester wasn’t worried about the arsenic or the lead.
But he was worried about what the abrasive grain might do if it fell, which is one of the reasons he wore the bundled clothes. And he worried the first time crossing the slag would damage his skis.
He applied a thick layer of wax.
“I was really nervous about not slipping at all,” Lester said.
In July, he walked down the hill several times – partly for the fun of friends taking pictures or videos and partly for fun.
Patrick Conroy shot videos and photos. Jonathan Stone took pictures.
Lester received positive feedback after the images were posted on social media.
“A lot of people thought it was pretty cool,” he said.
Which is probably the reaction shared by Lester’s sponsors. They include UPTOP and Colt and Luke Anderson and Kastle Skis.
Another local sponsor is the Grit Training Center.
Lester tries to make a living as a skier in the winter and a climber in the summer.
Son of Bob Lester and Rebecca Tamietti, Lester graduated in 2018 with a Snow Science degree from Montana State University.