Eaglecrest to pitch beer and wine sales

The World’s Largest Lesson at Eaglecrest took place on Jan. 6, 2017.

After lift close on a typical day at Eaglecrest Ski Area, small groups gather around SUVs and pickup trucks to unburden their boot-locked feet, stretch, tell stories and enjoy a Rainier or Alaskan beer. It’s called the après-ski drink, and it’s a traditional, time-honored practice for skiers and snowboarders worldwide.

 

Most ski areas sell beer and wine to facilitate slopeside socializing, but Juneau’s city-owned playground for powder hounds doesn’t.

That may soon change: Eaglecrest’s board will pitch beer and wine sales to the Juneau City and Borough Human Resources Committee at a February meeting, where the committee could move to send the issue to the city Assembly for approval.

If ultimately successful, the après-ski hour may move from the parking lot to the lodge, a relocation that the majority of board members, staff, skiers and snowboarders are behind.

It’s good for the bottom line and area users, said Eaglecrest General Manager Matt Lillard.

“A vast majority of ski areas have some sort of beer and wine aspect to their business,” he said in a phone interview. “Get a glass of wine while the kids are at ski school or get a beer at the end of the day. … It can help with the bottom line and enhance the experience.”

To gain approval, the Eaglecrest board will first have to present the idea to the city’s Human Resources Committee at a Feb. 13 meeting, where much of the “discussion work” will get done, according to Norton Gregory, Assembly liaison to Eaglecrest and HR committee member. After discussing the merits of beer and wine sales, the committee can then motion to vote on the issue at an upcoming Assembly meeting.

Gregory, an Assembly member and himself a downhill skier, said he can’t predict how his colleagues will feel about the idea. He doesn’t think it’s too far-fetched, but Eaglecrest’s status as a city property may complicate the matter.

“What they’re proposing isn’t a crazy idea because I can tell you that any other resort I have been to, at lunch you can go and have a beer. In that respect, I can imagine it is going to pass,” he said. “There may be some complications, though.”

The process wouldn’t be complete before the end of this year’s ski season as the proposal will need time to move through city procedure and Eaglecrest’s planning process.

There is a precedent for selling beer and wine at city facilities, however: the Juneau International Airport, a city entity, currently sells alcohol under a special “common carrier” license reserved for tourism destinations. That license stays with the airport if an alcohol vendor closes up shop.

The business model at Eaglecrest would be slightly different, with the tentative idea being to partner with a licensed third party — and receive in return an important boost to Eaglecrest’s budget.

Eaglecrest ended last ski season with a $100,000 deficit.

Beer and wine sales won’t be a “silver bullet” to possible revenue shortfalls, Lillard said, but it’s a relatively low-cost move that could help them stay in the black.

That’s the whole reason behind the proposed sales, Eaglecrest Board President Mike Stanley said.

“Really, this is about looking for additional revenue streams,” he said. “I don’t think it will be big, but it could help.”

Eaglecrest currently sells beer and wine at one-day special events and approves consumption for users who rent area facilities.

Eaglecrest is still waiting on Assembly approval to hammer out the details, but prospective sales will be limited to “relatively short” hours of operation, with closing time planned for an hour after lift close. In other words, area users won’t be invited to turn the day lodge into an after-hours hot spot, but to enjoy a beer as they change out of their bibs and jackets, then move on down the mountain responsibly.

The move toward selling beer and wine at Eaglecrest has been in the making since the board revisited its Master Plan in 2012, when Eaglecrest, searching for alternative revenue streams, identified beer and wine sales as a goal.

According to planning surveys conducted by Eaglecrest as part of that process, Juneauites are split on the issue: 49 percent of residents oppose the sale of beer and wine at Eaglecrest while 44 percent favor the idea.

However, the same surveys showed two-thirds (67 percent) of ski area users favor adding beer and wine sales to food and beverage services. Among non-users, 57 percent oppose beer and wine sales, with 23 percent of those identifying as strongly opposed to the idea.

• Contact Sports and Outdoors reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com.

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