Skiers pray for powder

Assembly members seek divine intervention as ski area languishes

Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Eaglecrest Ski Area officials are keeping their fingers crossed, skiers and boarders are praying, and public officials are appealing to a higher power - they want more snow as soon as possible.

Eaglecrest is trying to avoid an undesirable record: Its latest opening was Jan. 13 in 1996. Meanwhile, nearly 100 employees are waiting for work.

"We have people trained and sitting on the sidelines, and we are losing a few of them," ski area manager Paul Swanson said. "I feel bad for workers as well as the skiers and boarders."

Most of his employees are seasonal part-timers - instructors, lift operators, mechanics, janitors, and workers in food service, ski rental and repair - who don't get much work when the ski area is closed. The late season also is hurting local merchants, from food distributors and fuel suppliers to snowboard and ski shops.

The ski area normally is open Thursday through Monday, with longer openings during Christmas and spring break vacations. But temperatures were about 4 degrees above normal and snowfall about 20 inches below average in December.

As of Tuesday, there was about 4 feet of snow near the top at 2,600 feet but just a dusting at the bottom, where the ski lodge sits at about 1,200 feet. Eaglecrest officials want a few feet of snow at the base before opening.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed," said business manager Gary Mendivil. "This is Alaska and winter will come. We hope people can hang in there until the snow shows up."

"It's snowing in Ketchikan right now," Mendivil said this morning. "It's heading this way hopefully."

On Sunday the ski area started offering credits and refunds for season ticket holders, a policy created after the late opening in 1996.

Snowboarder Patty Collins hopes winter sports enthusiasts continue to support Eaglecrest.

"There are a lot of people trying to return their passes," she said while on the patchy slopes Tuesday afternoon. "This hurts the ski area because they spend money on improvements no matter what kind of snow year it is."

Collins figures she'll get value on her pass in about 16 days of usage, which she's sure will happen.

The National Weather Service predicts lower temperatures but only small amounts of precipitation this week.

"There should definitely be some snow above 500 to 1,000 feet, but I don't think any one of the days look like a significant amount as far as multiple inches," forecaster Paul Shannon said. "By Sunday things should warm up again."

It's more of a cruel tease than the substantial snowfall people are seeing east of the Mississippi.

Even Alyeska is suffering from lack of snow. Mendivil said the Anchorage ski area was closed this week because of wind and rain.

"We can't really do anything," said Juneau Assembly member Frankie Pillifant, an avid downhill skier and 4-H cross-country ski coach. "It's a lot more serious than you might think at first blush but you have to keep your sense of humor."

Concerned about the economic and emotional distress of the delayed opening, Pillifant submitted a proclamation that passed unanimously at a meeting Monday night.

"The people and assembly of Juneau most respectfully request that the Power Having Authority Over Snow grant our request for usable precipitation in the form of snow sufficient for downhill thrills, but insufficient to require rooftop shoveling," the proclamation stated.

"I think it's going to help," Mendivil said. "Sometimes you've got to embarrass the weather into doing something."

Juneau Empire photographer Brian Wallace contributed to this report. Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com.



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