The rubber stamp message on lift passes at the Eaglecrest Ski Area this morning said it all: "Finally."
Despite a fine drizzle and overcast skies, cars and trucks continuously pulled into the parking lot and disgorged skiers and snowboarders wearing big grins.
Among the anticipating throng was snowboarder Victoria Orozco, 28, who cheerfully identified herself as a "bike mechanic who has been laid off to enjoy this great winter."
"I am happy everyone stuck with it and is still supporting (Eaglecrest)," Orozco said, as she trudged toward the Ptarmigan Chairlift that would whisk her to the top of Pittman's Ridge.
"I am stoked," said urban bear committee czar Mark Farmer, first in line for the lift. "Eaglecrest is one of the best things about this community. While it's going to be a little pokey with things sticking out (on the lower slopes), it's creamy on top."
While waiting in line at the Ptarmigan Chairlift, Aaron Gaguine, 18, shows his lift ticket, which was stamped "FINALLY" this morning.
MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
Tom Aberle stood behind Farmer. "It's good to have it open. It means we get to ride instead of walking," Aberle said.
Kevin Sledge, an accountant for Taku Fisheries, joked that he had escaped the office as "a reward for a job well-done and two months of hiking up here, monitoring the snow and helping it along."
Chasing the gloom with his bright red parka, Jason I, 29, also was conducting first-person research - in his case for a Web site, alaskasnowandsurf.com.
Eaglecrest typically opens about Dec. 1, but Juneau has had warmer and slightly drier conditions than normal. In December, for example, only 2.3 inches of snow fell, 20.1 inches below normal, and 30.7 inches below normal for Juneau since Sept. 1, according to the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks. The National Weather Service reported 7 inches of snow fell at sea level in January.
Several youngsters were playing hooky to take advantage of what's left of the snow season. Taylor Smith, 14, and Colby Williamson, 14, students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, couldn't wait to blow the dust off their snowboards, although they weren't thrilled with the conditions.
"It's horrible. I can't believe they even opened it," Taylor said.
"It's pretty bad, but we are just up here to enjoy it," Colby said. He has his father's permission to use the slopes. "He knows I am pretty bored, so he said it was OK."
Brock Eidsness, 12, came with friends from Dzantik'i Heeni. "I have been waiting all year. I go snowboarding every year, and I hope they get more snow (this season)," he said.
Unloading his Crisp Curl snowboard, substitute teacher Chuck Clasby, 20, said, "We're glad it's finally open, but I hope things get better; I heard we are going to have a snowstorm this weekend."
College students, Aaron Gaguine and Jake Jackson, each 18, were there "just to say we were here for the first day," Gaguine said.
The Hooter and Platter-Pull lifts are closed due to lack of snow. Sneaky and Sourdough trails are open today, noted Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil, but Insane and Spruce Chute are closed. The tubing hill also is closed.
For up-to-date snow conditions, call Eaglecrest's 24-hour recorded report at 586-5330. For information on bus transportation and schedules, call the mountain at 790-2000. For the ski area's Web site, see Hot Links at juneauempire.com.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.