Local skiers and snowboarders have more to celebrate this year than Eaglecrest's 30th anniversary - Juneau's ski area has a deeper snowpack than any other in the world.
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Monday's recorded depth of 180 inches at the top of Eaglecrest ranks number one on a list of ski areas kept by www.skicentral.com. Figures originated from the national ski report provider SnoCountry.
Mount Baker in Washington has the second-highest snowpack with 171 inches at the top of the mountain. Alyeska Resort outside of Anchorage, reported 120 inches on Sunday to hold the eighth spot on the list.
"This is awesome compared to the last five years," said Brian Davies, snow safety director at Eaglecrest. "We've had some of the best powder skiing we've had in years."
Skier Nano Jacobsen was one of many taking advantage of the Presidents' Day holiday Monday at Eaglecrest.
"Last year was marginal and dull - it's been pretty epic lately," said Jacobsen, a regular at Eaglecrest. "I'm not sure you're going to have a better year than this."
The skiers and boarders are benefiting this February from an unusually cold November, said Rick Fritsch, forecaster for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
"We got a really good start on the year in terms of snowfall, with a lot of snow early and a real cold snap," he said.
The extra frigid weather allowed the ground to freeze quicker than normal and led to an unusually early snowpack, Fritsch said.
"Normally in November we are only looking at about 13 inches of snow and we got 64 (inches)" at the Juneau International Airport monitoring station, he said.
Kirk Duncan, ski area manager, has plenty of reason to be grateful.
"To some degree it's a little hard to believe," he said. "It's an interesting phenomenon, but we're just really glad to have the snow we have."
The snowpack level at Eaglecrest has been a concern in recent years, sometimes leading to delayed or shortened seasons, Davies said.
"Our last big snow year we had was '98-99 and we finished the year with 346 inches of snowfall at the top of the hill," he said.
Snowpack and snowfall are different, Davies said, because not all the snow necessarily adds to a resort's total base, due to weather or other factors. Eaglecrest has not necessarily had the world's highest snowfall of any resort this season.
The snow continued to fall Monday, however, adding more depth to the base.
"So far we have had 356 inches since we have started recording at the top of the mountain," Davies said.
The snowpack is noticeably deeper this season, Duncan said.
"We always look for about 100 or 110 inches on top, so this is about 60 percent above that," he said.
This much snow can be a blessing and a curse for Eaglecrest's employees, Duncan said.
"It's a beautiful thing to have all this snow, but there are some hidden costs," Duncan said.
The high snow level requires more grooming, snow removal and extra avalanche control, he said.
"We've gone through twice as much dynamite as we do on any given year just to do avalanche control work," Duncan said.
The extra snow looks like it also will help the city-owned ski area end the season very close to its projected $2.1 million budget, he said.
Skiers and snowboarders should remain cautious when hitting the slopes, Davies said, and be especially careful if they venture into the backcountry.
"They should always be cautious around tree wells with this amount of snow," he said.
February is a little behind the average snowfall at the airport monitoring station, but there looks to be more snow in the near future, Fritsch said.
"Most likely we'll continue to see snow up there, especially in the next week because it's going to be cold," he said.
Davies said he is excited for the remainder of the ski season.
"I'm curious what's to come because March is usually one of our bigger snow months," he said.
Did you know?
World's top 10 ski areas with deepest snowpack:
Resort Location Snow depth
Eaglecrest Alaska 72-180 inches
Mount Baker Washington 160-171 inches
Grouse Mountain British Columbia 154-160 inches
49 Degrees North Washington 102-155 inches
Lookout Pass Idaho 84-131 inches
Kirkwood California 77-128 inches
Castle Mountain Alberta, Canada 39-126 inches
Alyeska Resort Alaska 45-120 inches
Chamonix Mont-Blanc France 60-116 inches
Timberline Oregon 112-116 inches
Snow depth recorded at base and top of each ski area from Feb. 17-19. Information located at www.skicentral.com, provided by SnoCountry.
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.
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