Eaglecrest asks city to offset season losses

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

Warm winters in recent years have sent Eaglecrest's profits downhill, and the board of Juneau's city-owned ski area wants the Juneau Assembly Finance Committee to provide extra cash to help narrow a widening deficit.

"Last year was Eaglecrest's worst year in 27 years of operation," Board President Gary Hogins told the committee Wednesday, adding that Eaglecrest opened later than it ever has, in late February.

Hogins presented a proposal that asked the city for $240,000 to help fill the ski area's $479,000 fund balance deficit. Hogins outlined a plan that would use the city's contribution to get Eaglecrest out of a deficit situation by fiscal year 2008, with the help of cutbacks in equipment and overtime as well as the elimination of nighttime and April weekday skiing.

Hogins also suggested raising revenue by increasing summertime rentals and lowering the price of season passes in an effort to sell more passes.

Eaglecrest has a total projected budget of about $1.7 million for fiscal year 2004, which starts July 1. Because the facility's success is so dependent on the weather, the budget is set up to function in a three-year cycle, which anticipates one bad year in revenue and two good years. When the ski area has a good year, extra revenue is placed in a fund balance account to cover costs during bad years.

"It's sort of a savings account that evens out the highs and the lows. In a good year we put money in, in bad years we draw it out," said Gary Mendivil, Eaglecrest business manager.

Two of the past three years have been bad with warm winters, and season pass holders have received credits or refunds. The fund balance account is in the red, and Eaglecrest officials say they need help getting out.

"That would be a big job to get rid of all of that, but if we get a little bit of one-time funding, we could work our way out of it," Mendivil said.

He said Eaglecrest completed a study to better understand Juneau's market for season passes. The study indicated about 31 percent of Juneau households include a skier or snowboarder. In an effort to increase revenue, Eaglecrest has proposed a drop in season-pass prices that officials hope will encourage more people to buy.

Under the proposal, an adult pass would cost $249, a youth pass $199 and a child pass $99. Currently, season passes are $375 for adults, $255 for youths and $199 for children.

Assembly member Jim Powell, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the Assembly will consider Eaglecrest's request. He encouraged Eaglecrest to continue finding new ways to raise revenue, and praised the efforts of "Friends of Eaglecrest," a newly formed booster group.

"Basically we have an asset that is underutilized," Powell said. "We can maximize that with the community. But (Eaglecrest) needs to come to us with a long-term plan that includes more than just, 'pay $200,000 or $400,000.' "

Eaglecrest has considered other revenue-raising measures in the past, including a proposal for commercial heli-hiking in 1999, which met with considerable opposition from the community and was eventually tabled.

"We are putting some ideas together on how we can use the land and the day lodge in the summer," Mendivil said. "What the proposal is now is to try to see if we can offer nonmotorized recreation on trails and hiking, plus make better use of the day lodge for conventions and meetings."

• Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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