Those considering a move north after last year's dismal ski season in Juneau can take heart - Eaglecrest Ski Area will start this winter's season at 9 a.m. Thursday.
"I think it's going to be a wonderful season," said Jeffra Clough, ski and snowboard school director at the area.
This season will be the earliest Eaglecrest has opened since 1994, when it opened Nov. 12.
About 42 inches of snow blanketed the top of the mountain as of Monday morning and 28 inches of snow had fallen at the base. The snow was "just dumping" Monday afternoon, Clough said.
The Ptarmigan and the Hooter lifts will operate Thursday, transporting skiers, snowboarders and telemarkers to almost all of the runs. Clough advises riders to take caution, though.
"It's heavy, wet snow, which is perfect for a base - it's going to give us a phenomenal base - but for early season conditions it's pretty tough because it is so thick," she said. "People are going to need to recognize that and use some caution."
Caution includes not going too fast, choosing terrain that has the fewest obstacles and not getting tired by spending too much time on the hill, Clough said.
"You're not going to ski or snowboard the same way you did in March, even though you want to," she said. "There's got to be some warm-up, a little bit of conditioning."
The skiers and boarders who make their way down the hill Thursday won't be the first to play at Eaglecrest this year. The mountain was crawling with riders this weekend who hiked up the hill to get some early season turns.
"Saturday there were tons of people -I would say about 80 people up at the top," said Sukey Pfirman, who has hiked the mountain four times in the last 10 days.
"Sunday was just the best," she said. "I can't say how perfect it was, especially if you like powder."
If they're using telemark or randonee gear, skiers usually will climb the mountain wearing skis with special skins on the bottom to give them traction. Some alpine skiers and snowboarders wear their boots and hike up a quasi-trail that has been made by other riders, or they'll put their boots in a pack and wear snowshoes.
Most pre-season skiers hike up the eastern portion of the mountain, up the Motherlode and East Bowl runs.
Heidi Reifenstein, a coach with the Juneau Ski Club, took a group of elementary school students in the club up the mountain Friday afternoon.
"There was a little layer of crust so it was pretty tough skiing, but all the kids I was hiking with were happy just to be up there," she said.
To those interested in hiking the mountain today and Wednesday, Clough again advises caution.
The heavy snow falling at the mountain is landing on top of an icy crust of snow that fell and froze last week. The avalanche danger was enough to stop Reifenstein and Wayne Leighty from hiking up the mountain Monday to check the communication system for the ski team.
"We'll just wait until the lifts are operating," Reifenstein said.
The early opening for the ski area means even better budget projections for this year, Clough said. The area's budget does not include operation revenue until the first weekend in December, the traditional opening date.
The area has sold about 2,000 passes so far this year. The early opening, combined with the record number of season passes sold this season, should make for a more solid financial year than last, said Gary Mendivil, business manager for the ski area.
"The longer the season, the more revenue we bring in," he said. "What's really important for us is momentum. If people get into the habit of skiing and snowboarding, then that's a good habit to get into in our minds."
For more on Eaglecrest conditions
Visit www.juneau.org/ecrestftp/index.php, or
Call the snow conditions hotline at 586-5330.
Christine Schmid can be reached at email@example.com.