The aftermath of the season that almost never came

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

Skiing has always been my favorite winter outdoor activity. Since the age of 5, when my father put me on my first pair of alpine skis, I have amassed thousands of days on slopes around the world.

I have skied in the best and the worst conditions, big ski areas and little ski areas, and bitter cold as well as extremely hot days.

But nothing could have prepared me for my first full winter of skiing in Alaska.

I vividly remember my first day in Juneau on Oct. 2, 2001. It was a beautiful, sunny day and it gave me a clear view of the surrounding mountains. I pictured myself making jump turns through waist-deep powder down any one of the chutes that etched the mountainsides.

That very night the flurries began and by morning there was a 6-inch blanket of snow covering the ground, wreaking havoc on traffic as drivers inched their way to work. I could not have been happier, though. This is why I came to Alaska, to experience the winter wonderland firsthand.

Thoughts ran through my mind on how skiers would even be able to make it to Eaglecrest if it were to snow like this all winter. Unfortunately, it did not, and so came the ski season of 2000-01 or "the season that almost never came."

I anxiously waited out November. By the time December came, I had already waxed and sharpened my skis, duct-taped all the holes on my ski bibs and gloves, and placed my ski rack on the top of my car. I was ready, but Mother Nature was not.

I thought Eaglecrest would surely be open by Christmas, but that too did not happen.

When I tacked the new 2001 calendar on the wall, I had a bad feeling. Typically, I track my ski days on the calendar and in the past, I have always carried days over from the previous year. However, there was nothing to carry over to 2001.

I was sitting at zero ski days on the season and at the base of Eaglecrest, it rained. I started losing hope that there would be a ski season at all.

Now, for you back-country enthusiasts, I know there is always snow to be had if a person is willing to hike. But I admit I am too old, lazy and afraid of the back-country experience. I would much rather wait for the chair lifts to start running than risk being buried in an avalanche, which is one of the few things I fear in life.

Reports came from Eaglecrest that the temperatures were just too warm to make snow at the base area and that if the area would open, it would be the latest opening day on record.

Finally, on Feb. 1, Eaglecrest opened! Although there was minimal snow cover near the bottom of the slopes, it was skiing. Good thing I have a decent pair of rock boards, because the ski bases took a beating, but I was happy to finally be skiing in Alaska.

In all, I skied eight days last season and for the most part, it was better than I expected. Eight days is quite a drop-off compared to the 85 days I averaged the six years prior to 2000-01, but those things happen sometimes. Nobody can control the weather.

This season is going to be different, I can feel it. The air is a touch colder and the snowfall on the mountain peaks is already much deeper than the same time last year.

Two weeks ago I attended Warren Miller's "Cold Fusion" at Centennial Hall, put on by the Eaglecrest Ski School. Two days later, I attended the Juneau Ski Patrol and the Juneau Ski Club's annual ski swap.

Seeing everyone's enthusiasm for the upcoming ski season lifted me up, brought me out of the doldrums of "the ski season that almost never came", and instilled the vigor in me that I had almost lost.

I can sense this will be special year on the slopes.

Jeff Kasper can be reached at jkasper@juneauempire.com.



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