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The first day on the slopes is always a special time. For many skiers and snowboarders, it marks the true beginning of winter and a glimpse of what is to be expected from the rest of the season.
When Eaglecrest announced last week that lifts would begin running on Friday, I, like every other ski enthusiast in Juneau, was overjoyed. Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil said the ski area shoots for an opening date around the first week of December, and he was right on.
Forget the talks of global warming, El Nino, La Nina, or any other phenomena that has surfaced in skiing circles to explain the recent snowless weather trends. The snow that blanketed the Juneau area is indeed for real and hopefully here to stay.
I was unable to make it to Eaglecrest on opening day because my presence was required at the Region V wrestling tournament in Sitka over the weekend. It was a worthwhile trip, watching the Crimson Bears win the region team title and advance 17 wrestlers to state, but from time to time, my thoughts wandered in the direction of skiing.
The snow dumped in Sitka all weekend and according to several Sitkans, it was the most snow they had seen in 10 years. Even the wrestlers were talking of skiing.
Poor Kyle Monti, Juneau's 160-pounder, sat down on the bleachers next to me on Saturday. He was the only Crimson Bear not in action after being eliminated on Friday and had an expression of sadness on his face.
I tried to think of something to say that would cheer him up, but I thought any conversation having to do with wrestling would just make him feel worse, so I asked him if he skied. Immediately, Monti's face lit up and we dove into jovial discussion about when we would get our first chance to make it to Eaglecrest and sample the snow for ourselves.
Mine was Monday and what a day it was. Eaglecrest was reporting 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow and I could not recollect a season where my first day on the slopes was a powder day.
I loaded the Hooter chair, two chairs behind ski school director Jeffra Clough and assistant director Tom Brayton, who both had permanent smiles etched on their faces. Brayton joined me for my first ride on the Ptarmigan chair and we exchanged our optimistic views of the season that had just begun.
"This is the most snow we've had at the beginning of the season in three or four years," he said. Brayton went on to give me a detailed recap of the three days of skiing I had missed. According to Brayton and others I talked to on the lifts, Friday's conditions were a little sketchy, but improved throughout the weekend with Monday being the best day so far.
We took an easy run down East Bowl and into Mother Lode where the snow was as soft as down pillows. I was giggling like a child at the expanses of untouched powder I could see almost everywhere. It looked more like Feb. 9 than Dec. 9.
Brayton left after that run to get back to teaching others the beauty of skiing, saying "Next time I'll show you a couple of my secret powder stashes."
"Secret?" I thought to myself. "There's no need for secret stashes when the conditions are this good." There were powder stashes everywhere.
I spent the rest of the day happily exploring by myself and every run was better than the one before. I found untracked areas below East Bowl Chutes, just off Sundance and Hang Ten, in the trees between Barrel Roll and Waterfall, as well as pockets on Hilary's and Wolverine. There was no searching or hiking necessary. Fresh snow was all around.
Dec. 9, 2001, will go into my personal record book as the best first day of skiing ever. Never before have I seen conditions this good, this early and I can only hope it's the beginning of more to come.
Remember, a bad day skiing is always better than a good day at work.
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org