A great financial start to the ski season has Eaglecrest Ski Area officials stoked to pay down debt accrued during past low-snow years.
"It's our best revenue year ever," Kirk Duncan, general manager, said.
With 15 fewer ski days so far this year, the city-owned ski area is ahead of its 2007-08 sales goals by $100,000. Combined with more than $25,000 in labor savings, the extra money will take a chunk out of a $650,000 debt created when the board of directors gave season pass refunds earlier this decade.
The labor cost savings came from a slightly later opening day this year.
The pay-down will be $100,000 to $150,000, Duncan said.
Season pass sales represent 80 percent of the skiers and snowboarders who ride Eaglecrest's lifts. Duncan said that this year's boom is the result of last year's record snowfall season.
"We have good snow right now, but honestly it's last year's snow," he said.
About 1,980 "early season" passes were sold before the November deadline and totaled more than the entire previous year. Most sold for $349. Eighty-six percent of passes are sold to teens and adults.
That's before anyone knew how the season was going to go, Duncan said.
By the third week in January, 120 more passes sold.
"People are still buying," Duncan said.
With three months left in the planned ski season, an adult season pass now sells for $399. Duncan said the break-even point comes at 14 visits. After that, each ski-day is value added.
"Even at full price it's worth it," he said. "People are confident of good snow through the end of the season."
The revenue increase doesn't change the two-year construction schedule that eventually has Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. electricity running the diesel-powered ski area. The so-called mid-mountain lift and the platter replacement are expected to go up next summer.
Annual visits to ski areas had been flat for a decade before a slight decline last year. Duncan classifies sales over the last two years as growth but nowhere near a boom.
The ski area implemented a business plan to achieve an account balance of $600,000 by 2014. Under the plan, the city's ski enterprise was to begin paying down the $650,000 debt in 2009.
With more than $20,000 paid back last year, Duncan said Eaglecrest is already more than a year ahead. Future pass price increases and more sales are included in the plan, along with more efficient labor management.
Though weather forecasting beyond a few days is dangerous, Duncan predicts that the ski area will see strong sales in the 2008-09 ski season too.
Skiers have seen the value of passes after good Christmas skiing two years in a row and word of mouth is good advertisement, he said.