Snowy winter helps Eaglecrest finances

Ski area recoups 69 percent of expenses on its own, relies on city for rest

It might sound simple, but more snow means more money for Eaglecrest Ski Area.

 

Eaglecrest operated for 95 days this season, the most it’s run since the 2011-12 season, and it resulted in a decent financial year. The area only operated for a total of 107 days the previous two seasons, and Interim General Manager Nate Abbott said that snowfall is the simple solution.

“If it snows, people are going to come up to the mountain,’ Abbott said. “If it doesn’t snow, you don’t have as much interest.”

Eaglecrest essentially broke even this past fiscal year, projecting to have made 69 percent of its money on its own with the city’s general fund supplying $700,000. According to the projected 2017 fiscal year numbers released this week, the ski area’s total costs were about $2,247,000, and made $1,548,000 on its own. With the money from the general fund, the ski area recouped its expenses.

These projections, coupled with another decent fiscal year in 2016, has Abbott and others at Eaglecrest hopeful. It helped that more than 300 inches of snow fell this year, which comes off seasons of 157 inches and 263 inches, respectively, in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Those two low snowfall seasons came after a five-year stretch when the ski area averaged 333 inches per year. Abbott said sales dropped during those years and Eaglecrest is still recovering from those years.

The outlook toward the 2018 fiscal year is optimistic, as Eaglecrest projects that it can recover up to 75 percent of its costs on its own if the weather cooperates. The FY18 revised budget does include $50,000 coming from the Eaglecrest Operating Endowment to help out with expenditures, in addition to the $700,000 budgeted from the city’s general fund.

Abbott said those at Eaglecrest don’t want to be a burden to the city, especially with budget challenges at the moment.

“Obviously the city’s got some budget considerations with what the state’s doing and everything else,” Abbott said, “so we’re just trying to maintain a flat budget, not ask for any more money and just kind of keep doing what we’re doing with the money we’ve already been given.”

Abbott is still in his role in an interim basis, but the ski area is moving closer to making a decision on its next full-time general manager to replace Matt Lillard, who left the position this year. The Board of Directors will release a list of finalists this week and will then conduct in-person interviews after that Human Resources Director Dallas Hargrave said Tuesday via email.

Abbott and others from the ski area are presenting their year-end numbers to the Assembly Finance Committee on Wednesday night. There won’t be any surprises at the meeting, as the Assembly members are familiar with how Eaglecrest operates and with the challenges that face the ski area.

One of the main issues, Abbott said, is compensation for employees. He’ll mention at Wednesday’s meeting — which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Assembly Chambers in City Hall — that Eaglecrest is looking for more competitive compensation for its employees.

“We do have wage issues if you compare the typical wages of most Eaglecrest employees to some of the other positions within the city, they’re low,” Abbott said. “They’re low by city standards, to a certain degree, and they’re also low compared to industry standards. That’s something that we need to work on, increasing our wages, because we are starting to have trouble attracting some staff.”

He knows it’s not the time to ask for more money from the city, so Abbott won’t request any more than the standard $700,000. In the original budget that Eaglecrest put together, it had put in a request for $750,000 from the city but that number dropped in the revised FY18 budget.

Abbott said Eaglecrest is still bouncing back from the low snowfall in 2014-15, saying that some people got away from skiing when the ski area was closed so much due to low snowfall. He thinks that this past year helped get more people back on the mountain, and hopes that the trend continues.

“We’re starting to build more confidence (from patrons) again this year,” Abbott said. “Hopefully next year we have another great season like we had this year, and that’ll just help in confidence.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.


 

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