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Eaglecrest opening early, mountain getting ready

Posted: November 18, 2011 - 6:14pm  |  Updated: November 20, 2011 - 1:09am

Eaglecrest Ski Area is full of a rush of activity preparing the mountain for an early ski-season opening.

Eaglecrest has announced it will open at 9 a.m. on Friday instead of starting the season Dec. 3.

The early opening is a rather short span of time — from Friday until Nov. 27 — before the mountain reopens for the season on Dec. 3.

“We’ve received 46 inches of snow since (Nov.) 12th,” said Jeffra Clough, Eaglecrest director of marketing. “That’s only six days. So we’ve had all of our CATS out on the mountain. First thing we have to do is get the CATS out and pack the snow. We need the snow to form a base to ski on.”

So along with grooming the mountain, all the signs, tower pads, rope line and other equipment need to be brought up to the mountain and installed, since those are removed at the end of each season.

“That’s a great deal of equipment has to be brought up to the mountain,” she said. “New staff needs to be hired and trained, returning staff needs to be trained.”

Clough said they budget to open the first weekend of December, and train their employees the weekend before Thanksgiving just in case they can open early. This year the just-in-case scenario happened and employees are being trained this weekend.

“A lot of people don’t realize what it takes to get the mountain ready to operate,” Clough said. “It’s more than just flipping the switch.”

Other activity staff is doing to prepare for the season is testing all the rental skis to make sure they’re safe for guests and stocking the repair shop.

“Just managing this amount of snow, significant amount of snow has certainly been a little bit of a challenge too,” Clough said.

An early opening is a bit unusual for Eaglecrest. The earliest the ski season has ever opened on Eaglecrest was Nov. 13. One other time it opened Nov. 18 — but that was partly because Thanksgiving was early that year.

Clough said this is the first year in a long time they’re going to be able to open with three chair lifts active. In the past few years snow conditions have lead to fewer lifts being opened right away. The lifts that will be open Friday are Ptarmigan, Hooter and Porcupine. Details on terrain openings will be available closer to opening day. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Our early season has certainly been drier the past few seasons,” Clough said. “This year is really shaping up to be a great season. The snow came in quick but it’s looking very good at this point.”

People have been calling Eaglecrest and hoping for an earlier open date, and it seems they’ve gotten their wish.

“With the significant snow fall we’ve gotten, there certainly is a lot of enthusiasm,” Clough said. “I think everybody is very excited to get the mountain open and believe me we want to get the mountain open as soon as we can.”

Another part that’s both beneficial for skiers and Eaglecrest is the “early bird” pass sale will still be going on through Nov. 27. The sale was supposed to be over, but the City and Borough of Juneau’s website was down this past weekend so the sale was extended for those who couldn’t connect.

“Usually our early bird sales end at least a few weeks prior to the opening,” Clough said. “The fact people are able to come up and see how much snow we have, that’s a huge plus. We’re hoping people who have been sitting on the fence (will see that it’s worth it). Believe me this is the season to buy a season pass.”

Some services and regular season offerings will be limited or not available opening weekend. The rental and repair shop will be fully operational. The snowsports school will have limited instructor availability, reservations are required. The grill will also have a limited menu, but the coffee stand will be fully operational. The Snow Bus will not be available.

For more information or on condition updates see www.skijuneau.com.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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