My Turn: We've got low snow but high stakes at Eaglecrest

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

Eaglecrest Ski Area has provided 27 years of winter recreation to Juneau citizens. The ski area is owned and operated by the City and Borough of Juneau as a special revenue fund, which requires the ski area generate revenues and remain as fiscally self-sufficient as possible. A board of directors, appointed by the CBJ Assembly, provides ski area oversight. Over the years, we have had great support from the community of winter sport enthusiasts and we plan to continue to provide winter recreation opportunities for Juneau citizens well into the future.

Our goal is to provide community-based services at modest prices to allow families, children, young adults and adults to participate in winter fun. Among our most important supporters are those who buy season passes and lockers, participate in lesson and ski racing programs and volunteer with the National Ski Patrol. It is your collective support that keeps the ski area up and running.

In recent years we have expanded our winter recreation to include better cross-country skiing and most recently the addition of a tubing hill. Unfortunately, this year's unusually warm weather limited use of the ski area. Our situation is not unique and winter sports activities - from sled dog races in Interior Alaska to skiing at many ski areas in the Pacific Northwest - are suffering along with related businesses.

Poor snow conditions in two of the past three ski seasons have had an impact on our ability to meet our economic obligation to pay our way. Making Eaglecrest financially solvent involves having multiple sources of income from food sales, equipment rental, locker rental, ski and snowboard school, sale of daily tickets as well as season passes. Naturally, when there is little snow, all of these income sources are reduced.

A credit policy was first developed in 1996 to give an incentive for pass-holders who "keep the faith" when the ski area does not open as scheduled. The policy has been implemented two other times, most recently in the winter of 2000-01, when we refunded and/or credited $279,000 to our customers and spread the loss over the last two seasons.

The board recently reviewed the policy. We determined that while we met the "letter of the policy" in that the ski area did have a limited opening, we have not met the spirit of our obligation to provide winter recreation services to the community. Therefore, the board has unanimously determined that a credit is due our supporters.

We are currently considering different credit scenarios for this year and ski package prices for next year as we prepare our budget to take to the CBJ Assembly. As a board we are faced with difficult choices in order to balance the impact on our customers and on our future financial situation.

We do not take our decisions lightly as we consider families, children, youth, senior citizens and CBJ taxpayers. Whatever type of credit we offer, this will impact our operating budget in the future and it is a real, future cost to the ski area. Over 70 percent of our season pass-holders kept the faith the last time we offered a credit and we trust that many of you will again show strong support for Eaglecrest. We are grateful for your continued support of the "best little ski area in the world" and hope to see you on the mountain soon.

This commentary was submitted by the Eaglecrest Board of Directors: Gary Hogins, chairman, Sandy Boyce, Rosemary Gute Gruening, Pat Harmon, Jeff Morehouse, Brad Pierce, Eric Prestegard, Mark Schultz and Kim Titus.

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