If not for the immobile lift chairs, Eaglecrest Ski Area nearly seemed open Saturday with dozens of cars in the parking lot and crowds of people skiing, sledding and skinning near the lodge.
Employees spent three hours last Saturday morning in an orientation, one step towards getting the mountain ready for the season, General Manager Kirk Duncan said.
More than 62 inches of snow has accumulated as of Saturday at the top of the mountain, and 28 inches at the bottom. Duncan said the snow is making a good base for a successful season.
"People have been having a really good time with it," he said, "but it packs down well, too. And it's been blowing in nicely as well."
The area is set to open Saturday - a week early - if the weather holds up.
Warmer temperatures and rain forecast for Wednesday could change snow conditions and affect opening day. Duncan said the crew would make a decision whether to open on Friday.
"There's nobody that wants to get this mountain open more than we do," Duncan said. "But we have to do it safely."
The area opened the second week of December last year and the year before. It opened Nov. 19 three years ago, during a record-breaking season of snowfall.
Crews are finishing installation of the new Black Bear chairlift, a two-seat lift that will increase access to East Bowl and shorten a hike-through traverse.
Duncan acknowledged an expectation the lift would be open at the beginning of the season, but said crews were not able to finish construction.
The ski area employs seven full-time workers in the summer, and they worked hard on the lift and other projects during the off-season, Duncan said.
Black Bear is slated to open Dec. 19. It will transport 1,200 skiers per hour, compared to Ptarmigan's 860.
Over the summer, Ptarmigan chairlift was switched to electric power, a one-mile section of Nordic trail was improved, a new snowcat was purchased and computer operating systems were upgraded, Duncan said.
Porcupine chairlift will not open this year, and beginners will continue to use the platter pull.
Early-season pass sale revenues were up 8 percent over last year, but the price went up 16 percent. The preliminary figures indicate that fewer people bought passes or dropped down into lower-cost products, Duncan said.
The price of an early-season adult pass went to $449 from $379, but new pass products were introduced. For the first time, a mid-week pass and a weekend/holidays pass were offered.
Early-season pricing has ended, and an adult season pass costs $649. Lift tickets will cost $43 this year.
The ski area will be open weekends through Dec. 19, when the holiday vacation starts for local schools. It will be open daily until Jan. 4, then Thursdays through Mondays until Spring Break.
Only 42 people - not enough - showed interest in paying for an extended spring season so the area will be open the first two weekends in April, then close for the year.
New this year, snowboarders will be required to load and offload the lifts with only one foot strapped in.
Duncan estimated 10 percent of the area's snowboarding regulars ride the lift with both feet strapped in. Some riders say it's easier to off-load that way, but Duncan said it's not done at other ski areas.
Eaglecrest's insurance agent is requiring the area to conform to industry standards. Staff will monitor lifts to enforce the rule.
Duncan suggested snowboarders use a "stomp pad," a boot-sized sticky surface that's glued to the board where riders place their back foot, to help them keep their balance while getting off the lift.
Snowboarders also can practice offloading Hooter chairlift, which has a gentler slope than Ptarmigan, Duncan said.
Ptarmigan chairlift, which serves intermediate and advanced terrain, is scheduled to run during opening weekend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For updates, check www.juneau.org/eaglecrest.
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