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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 14 - 20, 2004


Torchlight parade, memorial honors skier

Family, friends remember Tom Wernig

Benefit is scheduled for
Monica and Taylor Wernig

Whiskey Jacques’ Saloon in Ketchum is hosting a benefit Thursday, Jan. 15, for the family of the late Sun Valley ski instructor Tom Wernig, who lost his life on New Year’s Day on Bald Mountain.

A memorial has been erected at the site of Tom Wernig’s death on the skier’s right side of Upper River Run. Express photos by Willy Cook


An extravagant silent auction begins at 4 p.m. and will continue to 10 p.m. when the Mark Slocum Band and Friends will take the stage for the remainder of the party.

A season ski pass donated by the Sun Valley Company will be raffled off. Tickets are $50 for each ticket, with a goal of selling 200, resulting in $10,000 for Tom’s wife and child.

A $5 raffle ticket is for lots of other fun items such as restaurant gift certificates.

A $10 minimum cover charge kicks in at 9 p.m. Proceeds from the raffle, the door, the auction and employee tips will all go to Tom’s family.

Both The Sawtooth Club and the Roosevelt Tavern on Main St. in Ketchum are also donating a portion of their proceeds from the night to the cause.

Cash donations can be made at Wells Fargo Bank offices in Ketchum and Hailey.

Express Staff Writer

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the base of Bald Mountain last Wednesday evening to grieve the death of Tomas M. Wernig, a Sun Valley ski instructor who died in an accident on the mountain New Year’s Day.

Tom Wernig’s memorial service was a time to cry and laugh for Maria Pollan, Monica Wernig’s mother; Tom’s wife Monica Wernig, holding their daughter Taylor; and Tom’s parents Pat and Fred Wernig. Express photos by David N. Seelig

In traditional Sun Valley fashion, the memorial was inaugurated by a torchlight parade that began near the ski area’s summit. For the final 600 feet, Wernig’s wife, Monica, led the snaking procession of 200 torch-bearing ski instructors and ski patrollers to the River Run Lodge, where a memorial service was held.

"It was just the most incredible sight and incredible feeling," Monica said. "I felt like he was with me. To come down that mountain and see all those people and all those candles was such an incredible feeling. I was just so proud of my husband. I was just proud to be his wife."

Several hundred mourners attended a memorial service for Hailey resident Tom Wernig on Wednesday, Jan. 7. Wernig, a 40-year-old ski instructor, died while skiing on Bald Mountain New Year’s Day.  Express photos by David N. Seelig

Several hundred people stood, flickering candles in hand, at the mountain’s base as the parade meandered down the shadowy slopes. To the east, the full moon peaked through silver-lined clouds. A steamy fog hovered over the hushed scene.

"There was just this calm," Monica said. "Every once in a while, they would tell me to turn around during the torchlight. It was just the most amazing experience of my life, looking back and seeing all the torches."

Tom Wernig. Express photos by David N. Seelig

As the parade culminated, the sky lit up as several volleys of fireworks flowered above the River Run Lodge.

"I had no idea that was going to happen," Monica said. "It was just spectacular."

The memorial service was a time for Tom Wernig’s family and friend’s to remember a man who was said to have an easy smile and a warm heart. For some, it was simply a time to grieve.

"I hope the love in this room will heal my silence," said Lori Wernig, Tom’s sister, who said she felt too much sorrow to honor her brother in the way she would have liked.

Many of the friends and family members who spoke offered gratitude for the community’s support during the time of their loss.

"Your generosity and warmth are overwhelming," said Fred Wernig, Tom’s father.

Marcus McCune, one of Tom Wernig’s good friends, teased his late friend for being a city boy. "This is Tom on his first backpacking trip," he said, decked out in New York sporting paraphernalia and carrying a trash bag over his shoulder. Express photos by David N. Seelig

For Lori Pollan, Monica’s sister, a close friend was lost New Year’s Day. In a moving speech, Pollan thanked Tom for his support and friendship.

"But most of all, thank you for being Monica’s soul mate and for creating a legacy like Taylor," she said.

Tom, 40, moved to Ketchum from New York City in 1989. He is survived by his wife, Monica; daughter, Taylor; mother, Patricia; father, Fred; brother, Glenn; sister, Lori Ann; and numerous other family members and friends.

He is believed to have died from exposure to the elements and hypothermia, according to Blaine County Coroner Russel Mikel. He was found on Bald Mountain on Sunday, Jan. 4, following a three-day search.

Described as an expert skier, loving husband and caring father, he was discovered at approximately noon by an avalanche search dog near the skier’s right side of Baldy’s Upper River Run ski slope. He had been missing since New Year’s Day when a powerful storm pummeled Central Idaho and dropped in excess of 2 inches of snow per hour.

At the beginning and end of each search day, searchers gathered at the River Run day lodge. Sunday morning, the day he was found, his wife gave an impassioned plea for searchers to find her husband that day.

An air of determination emerged from the packed room of searchers, who were visibly moved by the request.

Later that day, during a de-briefing, Sun Valley ski patroller and search coordinator Tim East thanked the hundreds volunteers who helped with the search.

"As I look out into this room and see all you volunteers, my heart is in my throat," he said.

But Monica said that is how it’s been for the last two weeks for the Wernig family.

"It was amazing, overwhelming. The support from the community—I can’t thank everyone enough," said Monica. "Living in this community has gotten me through the last 12 days."

"Tom lived the life he loved, and you guys were all part of that," said Glenn Wernig, Tom’s brother. Express photos by David N. Seelig

Tom’s wife added that her husband would have been embarrassed to see the effort that went into his memorial service or how many local residents attended. He wouldn’t even let her throw a 40th birthday party, she said.

So in front of hundreds of mourning onlookers at the River Run Lodge on Wednesday evening, Monica, holding her and Tom’s daughter, Taylor, told the crowd they were the reason she was able to make it though the pain.

"Thank you. I love you all and appreciate everything," she said. "Now let’s celebrate Tom’s life."



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