Skiers and snowboarders at Eaglecrest Ski Area and in Juneau's backcountry no longer have to leave home to find out what snow conditions are like on Douglas Island.
A weather station near the top of Eaglecrest is constantly feeding a University of Alaska Southeast Web site with information on the depth of the snow there, as well as air temperature, relative humidity and wind speed at the summit.
"You can look and see exactly how much snow there is at the top of Eaglecrest before you go," said Eran Hood, an environmental science professor at the university who worked with students to set up the station.
The weather tower at the station was donated by the National Weather Service to students at the university three years ago, said Kent Scheler, an environmental science major at UAS.
He and Peter Carter, a fellow student and ski patrol member, set up the tower just below the tree line on a ridge of Mount Ben Stewart north of the ski area. The station's elevation is about 300 feet below the top of the Ptarmigan lift.
"The conditions there are really pretty analogous to the conditions at Eaglecrest," Hood said.
The station is primarily meant to serve as an ongoing study of how weather and snow conditions relate to avalanche danger. Students collected ongoing snow data at the site last year, but this is the first year the weather station has a Web site.
"You can look at specific days, the whole month, the year to date," said Ed Knuth, an environmental science student at UAS who helped construct the Web site.
If they know how snow conditions affect avalanche danger, backcountry skiers can use the Web site to get an idea of what conditions are like, Hood said.
"We're not really putting out a forecast, but the information is there if you know how to use it," Hood said.
Backcountry skiers should always dig their own snow pit to analyze avalanche danger, Hood added.
The Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center, the National Weather Service and Eaglecrest Ski Patrol may use the data collected not only to predict avalanches, but also to predict flooding from the melting snow, Hood said.
"In Juneau, all the climate-monitoring stuff is at sea level," Hood said. "Any information from elevation is useful."
Scheler hikes up to the station about once a week to dig a snow pit and describe the snow layers. His research will be compiled in an avalanche forecasting project that will go toward his graduation from the program.
Research from last year's climate record has been submitted to the Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research journal, Scheler said.
Space to house the computer that stores data from the weather station was donated by Coastal Helicopters, which also donated transportation of some of the equipment, Scheler said.
Engineers at Haight and Associates in Juneau donated time and money to set up the station, and to create a computer program to analyze the data collected there.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out real-time snow conditions near the top of Eaglecrest at www.uas.alaska.edu/envs/fishcreek