With Thanksgiving right around the corner, workers at the Eaglecrest Ski Area are making their final preparations for the start of the 2001-02 season and will be ready to open as soon as conditions permit.
"Historically, we shoot for the first week of December," said Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil. "But we have everyone trained and ready to go by Thanksgiving."
Currently, 4 to 5 inches of packed snow covers Eaglecrest's base area and more than 5 feet can be found at the Eagle's Nest Warming Hut at the top of Ptarmigan Chair Lift.
"We like to have 2 feet of packed snow at the base before we open," Mendivil said.
Last year, Eaglecrest did not open until Feb. 1 due to lack of snow. However, employees are optimistic about accumulations this year.
"The Canadian weather forecasters are predicting a cold and wet winter," Mendivil said. "And the U.S. forecasters are predicting a cold and dry winter. Either way the cold should be good for us."
"I think a lot of people just sort of gave up last year," said Vertical Activities Coordinator Barbara Lindh. "I'm optimistic about this year, but I try not to think about it."
"I hope it's not like it was last year," Lift Supervisor Tom Boynton said as he performed maintenance on the Hooter Chair Lift. "Last year was my first year here and it was pretty rough."
With the late opening last year, Eaglecrest gave season pass holders an option of receiving a 90 percent refund on the total cost of the pass or a 57 percent discount on this year's season pass.
According to Mendivil, 73 percent of last year's season pass holders elected to keep their passes and take this year's discount.
"It's pretty consistent of when we did it in 1996, the last time we had the same circumstances," Mendivil said. "It shows that they still think it's going to snow and those who kept their passes got lots of days in."
Mendivil said season pass sales for this year are steady, but final numbers cannot be determined until the Nov. 25 end of discounted pass sales.
However, Eaglecrest did take a hit financially due to the late start last year. According to Mendivil, Eaglecrest is operating on a budget $200,000 less than the past season.
"The biggest thing was mostly just people's frustration about not being able to ski," Mendivil said. "We missed Christmas, which is big for us in setting the momentum on the season. But once we opened, we had quite a few busy days."
New to Eaglecrest this season is an expanded parking area, adding more than 60 spaces. The excavated land from the expansion was used to level out and widen the beginner runs off the Platter Pull as well as creating an additional berm for the tubing hill.
"The areas off the Platter will be a lot wider and less steep," Mendivil said. "It will be better for the beginners."
Eaglecrest also constructed a shell for a new maintenance shop that, when finished, will give mechanics a warm place to work on vehicles. A new tuning machine has also been installed in the rental shop.
Numerous activities are planned throughout the season, including the annual Eaglecrest Christmas Eve Celebration and the Women's Yes You Can Weekend on Feb. 16-18.
"We have something going on almost every weekend," said Lindh, who organizes the events.
For those who have never skied or snowboarded or people who need to touch up on their technique, the Eaglecrest Ski School, which employs 50 ski and snowboard instructors, has several different programs.
"Traditionally, lessons have been for kids only," said Eaglecrest Ski School Director Jeffra Clough. "We have lessons for all ages and ability levels."
"There's a sense of community in the ski school," said Assistant Ski School Director Tom Brayton. "For the people who have been working here for a long time, it's more than just skiing. We're a family and we're very supportive of each other. It's the best thing we have going for us."
For more information on Eaglecrest, check http://www.juneau.org/eaglecrest/. Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com.