Eaglecrest works out refund plan

Pass holders can select 40 or 75 percent refund

Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

People who hold season passes at Juneau's Eaglecrest Ski Area can chose between a 40 percent and 75 percent refund, based on a plan approved by the ski area's board on Monday.

The city-run ski area has faced a dearth of snow this year. The area opened briefly on Dec. 29, but closed Jan. 4 because of warm weather, wind and rain. The small beginners hill also opened for three weekends.

Because of the lack of skiing and snow, the board decided season pass holders have these options:

• Return the pass and get a 75 percent refund. People must ask for this refund before the ski area reopens this season.

• Keep the pass to use until the end of the ski season and receive a 40 percent refund.

• If the ski area isn't open by March 23, all remaining pass holders will receive a 75 percent refund, plus two daily tickets to use this season only. In the event that the ski area opens after March 23, only daily tickets will be sold.

Season lockers will be subject to the same refund rules as season passes. Eaglecrest sold 762 season passes this year, Business Manager Gary Mendivil said.

"That's about 69 percent of what we budgeted for," he said. "The direct influence is that when we stopped selling discounted passes, there was not a spot of snow on the ground. In a more normal season, we sell between 1,200 and 1,500."

The cost of an adult season pass was $393.75 through Dec. 1 and $525 after that.

The weather forecast for tonight called for an 80 percent chance of snow, and Eaglecrest Mountain Manager Paul Swanson said he remained optimistic about the rest of the season. The ski area plans to start making snow at midnight, but "even with that we need snow from Mother Nature," he said.

"Everyone asks how much snow you need to open and it will vary from 6 inches to a foot and a half," Swanson said. "It all depends on the consistency of the snow, and unfortunately we've been getting more now in the valley than up in the mountain."

Eaglecrest can open with 12 to 14 inches of packed snow at the base, by the lodge, and 5 or so feet at the top of the mountain. Right now, the ski area has 5 to 7 inches at the base. The snow at the top measured 55 inches a couple of days ago, Swanson said. A New York or Washington, D.C.-type storm would be good for Eaglecrest, he said, referring to recent snowfall on the East Coast.

"My drive to get the mountain open is more for the youth," he said. "We've got a spring break coming up."

Juneau's rainy weather has left the volunteer ski area board in a budget quandary.

Eaglecrest builds up its budget reserve in good snow years and draws from it in poor years. The fund's starting balance was $30,458 this year, and the ski area expects to lose money, Mendivil said.

"In the past, the (Juneau) Assembly has allowed us to have a negative fund balance, as long as we have a plan," he said. "Long-term, the Assembly wants to see a positive fund balance. In past years, the fund has ranged as high as $300,000."

Eaglecrest made $279,130 on season pass sales this year, with $45,111 from season lockers. But the overall budget is based on when the ski area opens, lift ticket sales and other factors, Mendivil said.

"Some people who get a refund will turn around and buy lift tickets," he said. "Mostly what we've been trying to figure out are the scenarios of when we'll be able to open versus fixed costs. What we bring in in lift tickets, food service and ski school."

The Eaglecrest board plans to give the Assembly's Finance Committee a budget update in two weeks, President Gary Hogins said.

"In the next four to six weeks, we'll be working on how we'll be taking ourselves out of this hole," he said. "We're also looking at long-term ways to make ourselves more self-sufficient - spring, summer and fall."

The ski area opened the bunny hill, or the Platter Pull lift area, for free the past three weekends, a move that has proved popular with families.

Jo Anne Bell-Graves and her son Nathan, 11, made their first trip of the season to Eaglecrest on Monday.

"He has a season pass and we have a large family locker and we really believe in supporting Eaglecrest," she said, as they ate lunch inside the lodge. "It was fabulous to be able to do this today free, just to be able to do a few turns and keep your skills."

Jason Cochran, 12, and friends Jeremy Hamby, 13, and Marc Lapeyri, 14, have been trying to make the best of the season's poor weather. They were out of breath after hiking up and snowboarding down the Sourdough run Monday afternoon.

"It was pretty tight, it was nice. We hiked up face," Cochran said. "I've been up here every day."

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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