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Lower PFD amount does not perturb Juneau ski businesses

Eaglecrest, ski shop managers say forecast little changed

Posted: September 28, 2012 - 11:00pm

Eaglecrest Ski Area holds an annual “PFD Season Pass Sale” every fall, hoping to take advantage of winter sports enthusiasts’ willingness to spend their Permanent Fund Dividend payouts.

This year, an adult’s unlimited season pass at Eaglecrest costs $449, a bit more than one-third of last year’s $1,174 PFD amount. With that extra money from the state — one of the unique perks of being an Alaskan of at least one year’s residency — a skiier or snowboarder hoping to take advantage of snowy winters on Douglas Island could pick up a pass, buy some new gear and maybe still have a bit of money left over.

But the PFD this year is $878 — less than twice the price of the $449 season pass. That provides significantly less cushion between the price of the pass and the total amount of the payout, leaving less money for other purchases.

Eaglecrest General Manager Matt Lillard said he thinks Eaglecrest’s patrons will not be bothered enough by that to sit this season out.

“People are still going to want to spend their winter skiing, and winter enthusiasts are very passionate about the sport,” Lillard said. “We’re still pretty confident that our prices are good, and it’s a great sale, and we’re looking forward to selling a product and getting everyone up there skiing this winter.”

Eaglecrest’s PFD Season Pass Sale ends Oct. 7, three days after the PFD is distributed on Oct. 4.

Sales so far this year have been good, Lillard said, with the number of passes sold actually slightly exceeding last year’s sales as of Sept. 21.

“We’re slightly ahead of last year, which is a great thing, considering last year was a record for season passes,” said Lillard.

But where Lillard said the lower PFD could be felt in the winter sports industry is in gear and equipment sales.

“In thinking about it, it’s entirely possible that while people will be buying up the season passes and continuing to ski this winter, the low PFD may result in them not buying a new jacket this winter, or new skis,” Lillard said. He added, “We still feel pretty strongly that they’re going to want to come up and enjoy their winter at Eaglecrest.”

Sean Rielly, manager at downtown Juneau’s Foggy Mountain Shop, was somewhat skeptical of that.

“People who are going to buy skis buy them no matter what,” Rielly said. He conceded, though, that sales of items like fleece jackets could be down if people see the lower PFD as meaning less disposable income to spend. “But yeah, there’s definitely less splurging.”

The biggest factor in winter sports sales is not the PFD, Rielly added, but rather skiing conditions. Generous “powder” snowfall, which accumulates for smooth skiing and snowboarding, will drive sales, he said. Slushy snow, he added, will depress sales.

“Mainly, it depends on the weather,” said Rielly. “If we start getting real good powder like last year, we’re going to sell, because people are psyched.”

Lillard said he’s hoping for a few more sunny days before the weather turns and some of that powder snow starts coming down.

Up at Eaglecrest, Lillard added, “We’re just getting ready for winter.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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