Christmas comes early at Eaglecrest

Juneau's winter sport destination records its second-earliest opening

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2006

Things are going downhill fast, and it's all happening much earlier than expected.

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Eaglecrest Ski and Snowboard Park opened Saturday. It was the second-earliest opening date in its history. In 1994, there was enough snow to open on Nov. 12.

Kirk Duncan, manager of Eaglecrest, joked last week on a radio program that if the area didn't open soon, someone would probably shoot him. Jeffra Clough, director of sales and marketing at Eaglecrest, put it a different way.

"We owe it to the people of Juneau to open as quickly as we can," she said. "We have snow on the ground, it's time to open."

Duncan estimated that by 2 p.m. Saturday, 650 to 800 skiers and snowboarders had showed up at Eaglecrest.

"The snow's really powdery and really soft," said snowboarder Teco Rubio, 16. "It's just gonna get better overnight."

Although skiers and snowboarders could use all the slopes at Eaglecrest on Saturday, only one lift, "Hooter" was operating. The chair lift drops off passengers at the Sourdough, Sneaky and Ego slopes. Saturday lift tickets cost $15, discounted from the regular $34 because of the limited lift operation. The discount continues today. Because of the early opening, Eaglecrest wasn't ready to rent out equipment, Clough said. The day lodge and the cafeteria, however, were open.

On Friday, crews were hurrying through last-minute preparations, grooming slopes and marking boundaries. Twenty-five to 30 inches of snow had fallen near the base of the hill. Nearer the top, 42 inches was recorded.

The Hooter lift will be open on Thanksgiving Day and weekends prior to Dec. 9, when the entire facility is supposed to open. If eighteen more inches of snow falls, the opening date could be moved up.

"If it keeps snowing like this, it could be Thanksgiving," Clough said.

"It does what it's going to do," Duncan said of the snow. "We just have to be ready."

On Friday, Clough said the most difficult aspect of opening early was making sure all employees were properly trained.

Brian Davies, director of snow safety, said there was only one accident on the slopes, but it was minor.

"The team has worked pretty seamlessly and well," Davies said.

Davies said at any given time there are three to eight volunteers on the slopes. Eaglecrest also has seven paid members of ski patrol.

James Burger, 5, was at Eaglecrest with his father Josh Burger, 31. James said he was excited about skiing with his dad. When asked what he like best about skiing, James grinned widely and said, "The hills."

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