Winter weather woes

Low-snow year provides too much extra time for winter athletes

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2003

Most winter sports enthusiasts have been left out in the cold this year, with too little snow to pursue their favorite pastimes. Up until this past week, most snow sports in Juneau have been reduced to little more than fantasies.

"One of my friends phrased it as, 'This winter is the coldest summer we've had in a really long time,' " said telemark skier and snowboarder Ben Williams. "That's pretty fitting for it."

Although Eaglecrest reopened Saturday, the low snow level has altered many people's winter plans, especially the ski area's employees. David Perry said this season has been rough on Eaglecrest employees, causing many to find other jobs.

"I'm happy that it's opening. It's about bloody time," said Perry. "You have to remember that it's not Eaglecrest's fault. If we could control the weather, we'd have a perfect life."

Perry, who has lived in Juneau for most of his 23 years, said this winter's weather patterns have been bizarre and frustrating.

"It's like a taking-away-your-kidney type of thing," he said. "I've been living for winters since I was however old, and to not have one is beyond harsh. It's cold reality, man."

The lack of snow this year has changed more than Eaglecrest employees' schedules and rituals. Williams, for example, put in 50 or so days of skiing and boarding last year.

"I was kind of looking to do the same this year," he said. "I've gone from skiing about three days a week to basically not at all. You end up changing your plans accordingly to do whatever else you've got."

Williams said he has spent a lot of time this winter hiking and biking local trails.

"Now I'm hiking on all the trails I've been hiking fairly recently, so it makes you work a little harder to find something new to keep yourself occupied," he said. "I've been ice climbing once this year, but the ice hasn't been terribly good either."

Some people have taken advantage of the warm winter by spending more time out and about.

"Something I've noticed this year is there's lots of people walking," said avid snowmobiler Mark Wilke. "Usually this time of year people give that up. ... We're not battling the usual slush and ice."

Wilke said this winter has been very difficult for snowmobiling.

"In essence, in Juneau we've been shut down all year," he said. "I've been here for 25 years now and I don't remember a winter with this little snow."

The lack of snow has been especially disappointing for the snowmobile club because it put many of hours into fixing up the Lake Creek Trail, one of the most popular snowmobile trails in Juneau.

"Now we're not able to use it because of the lack of snow," Wilke said.

This winter has provided a little more opportunity for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, who do not need as much snow as downhill skiers and snowboarders. But overall, it's still been a tough year up until this last week.

"This year is just not as inspiring, for me anyway," said Frankie Pillifant, a cross-country skier and co-leader of the 4-H Nordic Ski Club. "You just have to be grateful that there's some snow somewhere to go ski on."

Pillifant said the weather has reduced the choices of Nordic trails, but said downhill skiers are the ones who have taken the brunt of the bad luck.

"We're more flexible," she said. "We can find snow and go."

Downhill and backcountry skier Kevin Krein said he has found some snow worth skiing.

"... It just takes a little longer to get there," he said. "And it's not quite the quality it usually is."

Krein said the lack of snow in Juneau the last several years has been worrisome.

"The one thing I do worry about a little bit, is rather than this being a temporary weather cycle, that it's a really long-term trend and that Juneau will start missing winters often here," he said. "That's really scary I think, but I'm hoping that's not the case. I'm hoping this is more of a weather cycle that will pass, and next year we can start having normal winters again."

Although the weather has been a little more wet than most years, Wilke hasn't let that dampen his spirits.

"This is Juneau, it always snows in Juneau. I keep saying that over and over," he said. "Better riding is usually in the springtime anyway."

Krein also is keeping a positive outlook and hopes a real winter is on its way.

"My fantasy right now is that it will continue to snow today and we'll have winter that goes into June," he said. "The likelihood of that probably isn't very high. That's my little dream that I've been having, that we'll still get a real winter out of this."

Eric Morrison can be reached at

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