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Skiing Eaglecrest: Learning from experts on the mountain

January is Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month at Eaglecrest

Posted: Monday, January 10, 2011

“What took you so long? If you had learned earlier you would have poles by now.”

Eaglecrest Snowsports School instructor Rick Trostel opened his class for first-timers with that question and statement with his tongue planted in cheek, to the motley crew of assorted first timers, and me, deciding to learn how to downhill ski last week.

One of the first questions asked at Eaglecrest’s Ski Rental shop echoes Trostel’s statement, “Do you want poles?” That query is then followed closely with “Have you skied before?”

I had always assumed poles went with skiing, just like bikinis go with hot tubs. But then, I guess that is why I am a novice.

Our day began with Rachel Roberts easing concerns about the lessons while we stood under a sign declaring “Humans Were Never Meant To Hibernate.”

We then moved into equipment mode, getting outfitted by Mike Cole, Kori Lane, J.P. Zamarron and Phil England as they waxed skis, and prophetic, before sending us out the door to await certain gold medal glory.

“Come on, bring your skis up the hill,” Trostel said. “Let me get to know you.”

Novice or pro, Eaglecrest instructors show no class distinction or favoritism when they share their passion for skiing and the outdoors.

Even when I decided to use the orange safety nets to stop my path towards the ski resort kitchen, or planted one ski on each side of a moving tree they were by my side fixing what needed to be fixed.

We would have four Eaglecrest Snowsports School Instructors in our Triple Play lesson plan: Trostel, Sandon Fischer, Doug Sanvik and Alex Andrews.

Fischer was home from college for the holiday break, Trostel has been on the mountain for more than 19 years and wants his ashes spread at various points overlooking Seymour Canal, Doug Sanvik has been slicing these slopes since the mid 1980s, and Andrews, who grew up skiing around the world as his father was in the foreign services, has at least 10 years on the snow overlooking Douglas and Juneau.

Fischer had the unfortunate task of being our first ski guru, and if his name is not mentioned for the next available Nobel Prize then the universe is certainly out of alignment.

Fischer taught, cajoled, shared, laughed, and cheered right along with us on the Muskeg and Dolly Varden runs and the new Porcupine chair lift — even when the 3-year-olds arrived and went all Lindsey Vonn on us with their breathtaking turns and slaloms, maneuvers Fischer said we would soon be attempting. A plus is, when the day’s lessons are over you are allowed to ski that area as long as you like.

My second day I went early, got outfitted, and went back to the “beginner hill.”

This is the first year the Porcupine ski lift is in operation. Bought from the Aspen Ski Corporation with a grant from the Rasmuson foundation and local fund raising and transported free of charge to Eaglecrest, Porcupine replaces the old Platter Pull for beginners.

“The new lift has made a big difference,” said Eaglecrest’s Director of Sales/Marketing and Snowsports School Jeffra Clough. “We can move more people up the hill now a lot easier.” In the past, she said, getting kids, and snowboarders particularly, was very challenging. With the new lift, she said there’s been a big jump in lessons this year.

Clough said that jump is most noticeable among adults as people are realizing skiing and snowboarding are a good way to spend time with family and friends, as well as “burning some calories and getting outside.”

Porcupine operator Brian Vaughn continued to carry run-on conversations with me, picking up from where his last ribbing ended, with witticisms such as “skis point down hill,” and “orange netting looks better on snow than you,” and “back again? Give some on else a turn.”

On the second day, Trostel seemed to know everything we had done the day before, polished it a bit more and snuck us up the Hooter lift for an exhilarating run down a green slope called Trickster. Green slopes are the easiest, followed by blue, black diamond and black double diamond.

Eaglecrest has more than 60 instructors who come from a wide variety of walks of life including teachers and state employees. They are trained to help get clients to the skill level they desire as quickly as possible.

Instructor requirements include being a good “people” person and having at least intermediate skills on skis or snowboard. The same lessons one learns at Eaglecrest at low cost are the same high priced instruction given at resorts such as Whistler or Vail.

“The majority of our instructors, about 80 percent, have at least 10 years experience,” Eaglecrest General Manager Kirk Duncan said. “As far as what they do they are taught to go out and talk to students, get personal, with the idea to make sure they meet the student’s goals and not push them too far. They are real professionals and they just want to share their passion for the mountain.”

For day three, Sanvik and Andrews provided more refinements as speed increased and fear subsided. We were guests on their mountain, or they were visiting our mountain, it was all the same coziness. There was talk of pressure control, athletic stance, and standing up when you turn. If we weren’t smiling it was because our smiles were too tired.

Duncan said the idea is to try and deliver the highest level of guest service they can.

“We try to say yes more than no,” Duncan said. “We treat people who come like guests in our living room, but we expect them to act like that too.”

A long-term planning process is in the works, which will ask the public what Eaglecrest should look like in 2030. At the moment there is a lot of pride among the Eaglecrest staff about what has happened on the mountain, “including obviously the new chairlifts, and how we can make things better, but we are also looking at how far we have come,” Duncan said.

Eaglecrest has a variety of ski programs. A recent one targeting first time women skiers had more than 14 in the class, some of who had never before been to the mountain.

“We are trying to reach out to the community,” Clough said. “We want to let the community know that they have this amazing facility up here, come use it.”

Other outreach programs include a variety of midweek ride and ski specials; a Books to Boards program for local students which has resulted in 80 kids currently on scholarship through this year and includes one weekend this month their families can come along for discounted skiing, the 30th annual Learn To Ski weekend targeting third to fifth graders who have never skied before; and a reduced charge ($19) for first-time adults on Sunday morning.

Eaglecrest is the only ski area in Alaska celebrating the January Learn To Ski and Snowboard Month, and their Triple Play offer has been a popular attraction.

“Its takes three times to get good,” Duncan said. “I don’t think we do anybody a particular service by offering just one lesson.”

According to Duncan the Triple Play method originated with Bill Johnson at Aspen Ski Resorts. Johnson noticed an elderly man sitting by himself. The man’s wife was skiing. Johnson said he would pay for the man to learn to snowboard but he would have to do it three times. After the first day of snowboarding the man said he hated it and didn’t show up the next day. So Johnson went to his condo to get him. After the second day the man said he still hated it and didn’t show the next day. Johnson again went to his condo and brought him up to the mountain. After the third time he loved it and outfitted himself through Johnson’s company.

According to Duncan and Clough, that formula has been proven over and over at Eaglecrest. They estimate 85 to 90 percent of those who buy Triple Plays come all three days and then come back at least once more within a week’s time.

Just like the lack of a lift on the Porcupine beginners’ slope had been a problem, the rental office’s chaotic, yet professional, atmosphere has been one of the biggest frustrations and hindrances at Eaglecrest.

“We have a plan for that,” Duncan said. “Two to three years down the road we are looking at building a learning center between the current lodge and the Porcupine Lift that would take things like ticketing and rental out of the current cramped quarters.”

Duncan estimates Eaglecrest has about 60,000 to 70,000 visits per season. This year there are 2,600 season ticket holders. Eaglecrest is working with the Department of Transportation to get road condition updates posted on the 511 website by season’s end. Four buses bring those who don’t want to drive to the mountain. A morning bus starts at Mendenhall Mall, goes to Walmart, makes its way thru town and finishes at Eaglecrest, reversing that route later in the day. At 11:40, the bus leaves the mountain to take people to the transit center and leaves the center at 12:20 with a new load for the mountain. Complete schedules and other facts are on the Eaglecrest website, www.skijuneau.com.

Clough grew up in Colorado where skiing was part of everyday life. No so in Juneau, he said, at least not yet.

“In Juneau, skiing and snowboarding are not a part of everybody’s life, the biggest thing we and I would like everyone to realize is Nordic, skate-skiing, classic skiing, snowboarding and Eaglecrest really are for everyone.”

On my last day of lessons I had the privilege of sharing a lift up the Hooter lift with elementary schooler Samantha Billy. Most of my ski clothes are older than she is, yet the second-year skier was taking more lessons because, “It is better to be safe.”

Within the first 100 yards, Billy began to laugh as a lone yellow ski, free from the weight of its owner, went cruising underneath us into the wooded boundaries.

“That is probably making it difficult for the other ski to get down,” she laughed loudly. “And the skier.”

Billy informed me that it is best to get a half-size larger ski boot if your ankle bones hurt, to wear some type of breathable Gore-Tex for wet days and something warm for the lift rides.

Billy told me that Mark and Sarah, her ski racing coaches, got married. She recounted some guy doing a back flip off a mogul and going down the hill on his bum.

Then she pointed at one of the last warning signs near our chair exit, “Always Use Devices To Prevent Runaway Equipment.”

“Don’t you think that should be down near the beginning?” Billy laughed. “Down where the magical single yellow ski went?”

At that moment Trostel, with a tiny four-year-old balancing on one yellow ski tucked between his legs, was gracefully slaloming (and teaching) down the Sourdough run on what is certainly the youth’s most fantastic trip of the day.

I parted company with Billy off the lift and as I attempted slow turns down Sneaky, increasingly gaining momentum, and her tiny form disappeared like a streak down multiple moguls, my mind daydreamed about my new bumper sticker.

I ordered it after my first ski lesson.

It says, “If I had learned earlier, I would have poles by now.”

• Contact Klas Stolpe at
523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com



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