Eaglecrest doesn't wait for Mother Nature

Ski area makes snow before incoming storm hits

Posted: Friday, November 21, 2003

Eaglecrest Ski Area, buoyed by last week's snowfall, has been using the clear, cold days since Wednesday to make snow before the next storm.

Eaglecrest's operators don't want to guess when the ski area will open this season. Manager Paul Swanson, standing Thursday morning near the base of the Ptarmigan chairlift as two snow machines shot fans of snow crystals into the air behind him, said he's superstitious about making a prediction.

"There's just so many variables," Swanson said.

Two feet of powdery snow can pack down to 2 inches, while 14 inches of heavy snow can make a good base, he said.

"Everybody should light their snow candles and do their snow dances," advised Debbie Hart, an Eaglecrest board member.

The National Weather Service predicts Juneau will get 4 inches of snow Friday and 4 more inches Friday night.

"We're looking at a storm moving in starting tomorrow," Pete Rahe of the weather service said Thursday.

But Eaglecrest probably won't get more snow than the low elevations because it should be cold everywhere, he said.

Eaglecrest officials are hopeful it will have a much earlier start and a better season than last winter, the worst ever at the city-owned ski area on Douglas Island. The area opened for a few days late in December and then shut down until late February.

Skiers are hopeful, too. Eaglecrest has sold about 2,000 season passes so far, more than its previous peak of 1,600 for the whole year, said Business Manager Gary Mendivil.

"It's looking good," Hart said. "It's looking like a normal year. It's looking like an early year, actually, because we got that incredible cold weather."

Cold, dry days are what Eaglecrest needs to make snow. The ski area uses gravity to feed lake water 800 feet through hoses to the snow-making machines, which look like jet engines.

The machines first mix some of the water with air, which creates small frozen granules, and shoots them out of the machine. The outer rim of the machine also shoots out streams of water and those drops attach to the passing granules, making them bigger. Snow tractors then push the piles of snow onto the ski trails.

In 10 hours from midday Wednesday to late at night the machines created a pile of snow about 12 feet high, 40 feet long and 40 feet wide, Swanson said.

"Man-made snow is a little more durable," said Jeffra Clough, an instructor at Eaglecrest's ski and snowboard school. "It stands up a lot more to rain and to working it over and over with Snowcats."

After last week's storm, Eaglecrest had about 10 inches of snow at the bottom of the mountain and 2 to 3 feet at the top, Clough said.

"We like to have about 2 feet at the bottom of the mountain and 4 to 5 feet of base at the top of the mountain," she said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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