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Second Season

After Eaglecrest lifts close, skiers enjoy unofficial

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2007

Feeding off the best snow year on record, local skiers and boarders strive to keep the season going and going and going. Some folks talk as if winter had just arrived.

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"The second season just got started, and it's going to be good this year," Chris Trollan said.

Trollan, 42, is a local six-day-a-week skier and snowboarder whose personal season ends only when the snow does. He said this year's snowfall would propel the second season well into July.

Meanwhile, he's looking for new fall lines.

People into gravity-powered sports could be divided into two types: those who ski during the traditional season and those who ski after.

For the former, the sliding season depends on resort profitability and snowpack. For the latter, individual drive sets the limit.

The lifts at Eaglecrest Ski Area stopped running April 15. For some die-hards the lack of lifts enhance the ski area.

Unfazed by the loss of uphill locomotion, many Juneau skiers and boarders switch to people power, climbing the terrain in and out of bounds around Eaglecrest.

Any given morning, skiers are out at 5:30 a.m. donning packs, buckling boots, and attaching skins for the ascent through morning fog, hoping to get in one run before work.

Some of these die-hards just want some exercise; some are trying to keep a streak going.

Others do laps all day, "yo-yoing" an area - climb and slide, climb and slide. They're more into the aesthetics than anything else.

Some skiers stay inbounds and ride the spring corn snow of West Bowl or the East Ridge. Others head for Mount Ben Stewart's untracked snow, blown clean with every breeze.

Local telemark skier Tom Aberle, recently hobbled by a minor injury, spent a week conducting an informal numbers survey of those skinning the mountains through Eaglecrest.

Aberle was looking for a way to quantify ski area use after this season's end. By his count, 454 people used Eaglecrest slopes between April 18 and April 22. Not all were skiers, Aberle said.

Kirk Duncan, Eaglecrest area manager, said many of the skiers in Aberle's numbers are the same 50 people who pursue a second season every year.

Most winter sports enthusiasts have skied themselves out by mid-April and move on to other things, Duncan said.

Second season skiing attracts people with different attitude.

"If you're just looking for turns, you'll be disappointed," Trollan said. The skiing is as much about the climb as the descent; as much about peace and quiet as fresh untracked snow.

"A few moments of perfection," he said.

Trollan is not to be misunderstood. Skiing and snowboarding are also about ripping those long, steep, gnarly lines that are a part of big mountain riding in Alaska. Douglas Island is loaded with great skiing, Trollan said.

Greg Cook, 56, said backcountry skiing is a multitude of experiences. Depending on the day and the place, he's as happy to follow animal tracks in the snow as he is to ride the undulating lines of West Ridge.

"It's nothing short of wonderful," he said.

With two inches of fresh snow overnight Saturday, the depth gauge near the Eagle's Nest at Eaglecrest read 286 inches.

"We'll keep accumulating snow through May," Joe Power said.

Power, a Nordic and telemark skier, was sharing coffee with his pal Ray Imell in the Eagle's Nest, warming after skinning up steep black diamond slopes to do a few laps near West Bowl.

As summer approaches there is a lot of skiing ahead, Imell said.

Near-term forecasts bode well for the second season. Brian Bezenek, a meteorologist and forecaster with the National Weather Service in Juneau, said the next few weeks have wet Pacific systems lining up.

The forecast translates into freshies for the mountains as overnight temperatures dip below freezing in the high country.

Skiers undaunted by Saturday's rain in town found light snow falling and a thin layer of decent fresh snow spread across the hardpack on the upper mountain.

Early risers had their choice of runs like The Most, Barrel Roll, and Super G. Overnight, everything had turned into easy access untracked snow.

"We expect continued onshore flow with precipitation almost every day," Bezenek said.

Before starting up the slopes Saturday, Power threw out a bit of counter intuitive ski wisdom.

"Why sit in a chairlift all winter and freeze when you can ski corn on an incredible day in May," he said. "I don't really ski Eaglecrest until the lifts stop running."

• Greg Skinner can be reached at greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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