On Thanksgiving, before heading off to feast, I headed up to Eaglecrest Ski Area to see how things were looking.
As the day was clearer and freer of precipitation than most days in recent memory, I hoped to see how the various construction and improvement projects at Eaglecrest are progressing. I hadn't made it up there since early in the summer, and I was not disappointed with what I saw from the base of the mountain. In truth, what I saw warmed this skier's heart.
The new mid-mountain lift is moving nicely along. Last April the contract to build this eagerly awaited project was awarded, with completion forecasted for midsummer of 2009. The road to the top of the mountain was also slated for work this past summer. Both projects look well ahead of schedule, with the road done, and the mid-mountain lift visibly taking shape.
Eaglecrest's management recently released results of a nonscientific online survey conducted from late August through mid-September. The survey results were reported a few weeks ago, but as I made my way up to Eaglecrest on Thanksgiving, I found myself pondering what survey participants said.
In the interests of full disclosure, I responded to the survey, and encouraged others to as well. Some 1,109 survey responses were received: 308 from persons who had not skied or snowboarded last season and 108 from those who had never engaged in either activity at Eaglecrest.
It interested me that so many respondents were nonskiers, but on a moment's reflection I remembered that we're talking about a facility that is partly publicly financed. It makes perfect sense for any one with an interest in the allocation of scarce public funds to have responded. People should care and comment on how public funds are spent.
The survey asked about respondents' support for Juneau's general fund allocation for Eaglecrest. Among non-users and infrequent users, the largest segment (29 percent) were very supportive and the second largest segment (20 percent) were supportive. This base of support from nondirect beneficiaries was counterbalanced by persons very opposed (19 percent) or opposed (13 percent). The remainder of responses were neutral on the issue of public funding.
The survey asked questions about users' overall satisfaction with facilities and services. I was not surprised at the generally favorable ratings Eaglecrest received for various aspects of operations. One specific area where I thought respondents were a little too generous was grooming, with 25 percent rating it as very good and 56 percent as good. Last season I think grooming was adequate at best, but I also understand one possible reason for this, the very high cost of the fuel needed to operate the grooming equipment. If you remember that without the connection to Alaska Electric Light & Power's power grid all the power there had to be diesel-generated, and then compute the aggregate cost of that fuel and the fuel for the snow-cats, it makes sense that runs weren't being groomed as often as possible last year. Given that in future there will be no need for diesel-generated power for the lifts and lodge, and the currently falling prices of petroleum products, I expect we may see more grooming this coming season.
The survey's questions about prices for season passes and day tickets didn't surprise me. People don't want to spend any more than they have to for a desired commodity, but it doesn't appear that there's any sort of over-charging going on. Questions about desired changes or improvements yielded up a single most-desired enhancement, night-skiing. This would require infrastructure to light the runs on which users can safely ski at night, which the lower-cost power supply may make more feasible in future. Anyone who remembers night-skiing in years past probably does so fondly, and I know that I'd certainly take advantage of this opportunity if it re-emerges.
Overall, my visit to Eaglecrest and these survey results left me feeling comfortable with the direction in which the ski area is heading. The need to improve services has not only been acknowledged, but it is being acted on with tangible results on the very near horizon. The larger community, not just skiers and snowboarders, tends to support Eaglecrest and the expenditure of tax revenues to keep it going.
I believe this is because Eaglecrest's continued operation and the enhancements under way ultimately benefit a much larger group than those of us who ski every chance we get. The full survey results are at http://www.juneau.org/ecrestftp/documents/EaglecrestSurveyReport2008.pdf.
Hopefully I'll see you on the mountain any day here.
Ben Brown is a lifelong Alaskan.
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