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Eaglecrest seeks ties to tour business

Ski-area officials say long-term contracts would be most viable

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Eaglecrest Ski Area is asking the city to allow it to give long-term contracts to tourism companies interested in operating on the property during the summer.

The idea was proposed last month after Juneau Assembly members told Eaglecrest to find creative ways to generate revenue in the off-season without having to spend money initially.

General Manager Kirk Duncan said tourism companies are interested in setting up activities for summer guests, but need more than one-year contacts to make a profit.

Duncan could not say which companies are in talks, but examples of their ideas include a zip line that runs from treetop to treetop and a dog sled run.

An amendment to a city regulation would allow contracts to be as long as five years. A public comment period on the issue is open through Nov. 4 before the Assembly votes on the amendment later this year.

"If someone is investing $200,000, you would like them to have a reasonable amount of time for a return on their investment," Duncan said.

Serving a town of 30,000 residents, Eaglecrest may never be profitable, Duncan said. But it can at least wean itself further from city subsidies.

The ski area regularly receives $385,000 a year from the city, but this year it got $115,000 extra for deferred maintenance, Duncan said.

The subsidy is 30 percent of Eaglecrest's budget, compared to other public-owned ski areas in Wyoming and New Hampshire that get 50 percent.

Commercial agreements with tour operators would be different for each company. Duncan said a typical contract would obligate the company to pay Eaglecrest cash up front and then give the ski area a percentage of the sales.

"I'm all for anything that may turn a profit," said Tom Nave, president of the Juneau Ski Club.

Duncan said he's against asking the city for more money to start Eaglecrest's own summer programs because the public ski area would be competing with the private sector.

One constructive idea was that Eaglecrest should ensure companies have backup funds or bonds to fulfill the contracts in case of a company backing out of a contract, Duncan said.

Duncan has several other revenue-generating ideas that may surface in the coming months.

"We're reinventing the way we do things," he said.

Four local companies so far are interested in adopting a ski run for $2,500 per year. The sponsor's name would be placed on a 1-foot-by-4-foot sign on the run's marker and the money would go to maintenance.

"I think once it starts, it will gain some momentum," Duncan said.

With a total of 31 runs and three Nordic trails, Eaglecrest stands to earn $85,000 a year.

The clearing of stumps and other debris may allow skiers to make use of 18 inches of powder, rather than waiting for 4 feet of snow, Duncan said.

To offset a soggy winter or a late start, Duncan said Eaglecrest cuts cost by turning down the thermostat, as the lodge is heated by diesel, and cutting back on labor when it's not needed.

Eaglecrest has six year-round employees and up to 125 temporary ones during the season.

Nave said the Juneau Ski Club is working to attract more competitive skiers to Eaglecrest for the benefit of the city's youth, as well as the economic health of the ski area.

The club is proposing to borrow money from the city to build a new facility on campus to house the ski patrol and give downhill racers some elbow room to train.

Preliminary designs not approved yet include locker space and storage areas for timing equipment. Fees for renting the lockers and training rooms would help pay the building's mortgage, Nave said.

Nave said if Eaglecrest improves all around, more youth skiers would come to Junior Olympic trials from other parts of the state. Other opportunities for competitions include inviting skiers from the Yukon and the Lower 48, he said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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