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Weather wreaks havoc on ski plans

Wind, lack of snow challenge Eaglecrest's planned opening day

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A dry November and two days of high winds this week withered hopes that Eaglecrest Ski Area would open on time this Saturday.

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Ski area personnel are ready to open, but one ingredient is sorely missing.

"We need three feet of snow," General Manager Kirk Duncan said Monday. "We need the wet, heavy, ugly, glumpy stuff that covers the rocks."

The ski area had only blotchy patches of snow at the bottom Monday and a 36-inch base on top. The area received only 16 inches of snow during the month of November, and much of that blew away over the past few days during high winds.

Ideally, 18 inches to 2 feet of snow are needed at the base to open, and 60 inches on top, said Ski Patrol Director Brian Davies.

Conditions on Monday made an opening this weekend seem unlikely.

"We need to get bamboo (markers) put up on the mountain but there's nothing to stick it in except frozen ground," Davies said.

Last year brought the same early-season conditions, until a storm dumped three feet in two days, allowing the area to open on Nov. 18.

"And it never stopped snowing," Duncan said about last year's record season.

Lower than normal precipitation dominated the weather this November, with most of the month's snow falling nearly a month ago on the 5th.

Only 4.5 inches fell at the airport weather station during the month, nearly 8 inches below normal, said Juneau forecaster Paul Suffern with the National Weather Service.

While Eaglecrest's station reported 8 inches at the base on Nov. 6, by the end of the month it was down to zero, Suffern said.

Temperatures were above average in November by 2 degrees. The thermometer climbed to a high of 45 degrees at the airport during the month, and hit a low of 19.

The service issued a high-wind warning for the area over the weekend, and wind gusts created more challenges on the slopes.

"The north winds scalp snow out of the ski area and put it on the back side of the island," Davies said.

Cold temperatures would set the base up, however, by freezing the ground for a better surface when snow does fall, he added.

The forecast called for snow this week with the best chance coming on Friday. A weak weather system coming from the west had forecasters predicting a 20 percent chance of snow today and a 50 percent chance on Wednesday. The system would likely drop more moisture in the Yakutat area, Suffern said.

A more dynamic storm system expected to arrive Thursday night allowed for a 60 percent chance of snow into Friday, but it was too early to tell where most of the snow might fall, Suffern said Monday afternoon.

Snowmaking operations shut down at the ski area late Monday due to a problem with the water line that feeds the system.

If it can be fixed, snowmaking will resume this week, Duncan said. The staff had been working around the clock to make snow, and the delay caused some frustration.

"We want to get open as soon as we can," he said.

Once open, the area would run the lifts on weekends only through Dec. 20, then every day except Christmas day until Jan. 7.

The decision to close for the holiday was made for financial reasons - it's not traditionally a busy day for skiing - and so that staff could spend the time with family, Duncan said.

• Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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