There's a misconception that snow sports are a rich man's discipline.
Yes, it's true not everyone can afford a season pass, or purchase new ski or snowboard gear on a whim. But for Juneau youth and those in need, the Eaglecrest Foundation is aiming to not only make skiing and snowboarding affordable, but the group also wants to make it enjoyable.
The non-profit organization, which only recently got off the ground this winter, is dedicated to expanding snow programs throughout Juneau while working together with schools and other organizations to provide a supportive learning environment for athletes of all economic backgrounds, experience levels and physical abilities.
Foundation President Jim Calvin said beyond the specific goals of the organization, the new non-profit also will help make the ski area more valuable to the community by helping to fund improvements and new programs.
"Eaglecrest is a real asset for adults and young people," he said. "It's important to the quality of life during winter months. I can't tell you how many people have said that without Eaglecrest, living in Juneau during the winter would be much harder."
Since its inception, the organization has already begun to fulfill its goals.
Kirk Duncan, foundation executive director, said they kicked off the "Books to Boards" program, with help from a donation from Mendenhall Auto Center, which gives 50 middle school students the opportunity to be rewarded for their hard work, by carving, or learning to carve turns on the ski hill. It's a program that Duncan said has never been attempted by any ski area that he knows of, and it's one that's been picked up by the National Ski Areas Association.
Students are chosen by teachers based on need, and are expected to meet attendance and grade requirements. Duncan said the students in turn, get a bus pass, rental, lift ticket, lesson, outdoor clothing (including gloves and goggles) and a helmet for use any time school is not in session.
But this is only the beginning. Duncan said he hopes to have upward of 300 students participating in the future, and hopes that the kids who get hooked will keep coming back.
"We hope to roll out, in the next year or two, a program called 'Work to Play,'" he said. "When we get these kids hooked on snowboarding (or skiing), they can sign up to work three hours on a Saturday or Sunday, then get a lift ticket for compensation."
But it's not easy to get participants hooked on snow sports - out of 100 people who try sport, roughly 15 stick with it - and Duncan said the program is still in its beginning stages.
"It's been incredibly successful with some folks, and incredibly challenging for others," he said.
Enter the latest endeavor of the foundation: The Porcupine Chair.
This new chairlift is scheduled to be completed by July and will replace the dated and cumbersome Platter Surface Lift, which has been around since the "early days."
Duncan said they already have all the parts and pieces for the seven-tower, 39-chair lift, but still need to raise about $100,000 based on budget numbers.
The estimated total cost of the lift will be $350,000, and the Rasmuson Foundation has contributed $200,000 for the project. Additionally, the area is putting $50,000, raised during the Black Bear Chairlift, toward the needed funds.
The Porcupine campaign will function much like the campaign for the Black Bear Chairlift. Duncan said supporters can donate $1,000 to put a name on a chair, or $5,000 for a name on a tower and a recognition board in the day lodge.
Duncan said the construction of this lift comes down to sustainability. A better beginner lift will keep new users on the slopes and increase the chances they'll stick with the sport.
"As we look toward what Eaglecrest will look like in the future ... if we got those 100 people up here, but got 25 people to stick with it instead of 15 ... it would be huge," he said.
The new lift also would create ease and convenience for users like those with ORCA, a recreation branch of Southeast Alaska Independent Living, which offers adaptive outdoor opportunities for residents who experience disabilities.
Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, activities coordinator for the Juneau ORCA program, said a new beginner lift will remove what many of his clients see as a roadblock.
"No matter your abilities, for any skier learning to ski, just riding the Platter can be intimidating," he said. "We're thrilled to have the Porcupine Chairlift on the horizon."
For now, the foundation is chugging forward, but Calvin said things are still new and the group is "really just getting our feet on the ground."
"The sky is the limit as far as what we want to do," he said. "There's just so much opportunity for the organization. Our challenge will be scaling our work toward what's doable. In the near future, we need to develop a long-term plan so we have a road map for support and programs."
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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