For Juneau's avid skiers and snow riders, Christmas came early this weekend as Eaglecrest Ski Area opened for the season.
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"I'm so excited!" Jacob Calvin said as he huffed up a hill toward the base of the Ptarmigan lift at 9:15 a.m. Saturday carrying his twin tips and poles.
About 30 people stood in line Saturday morning to wait for the season to begin, including Jennifer Bellman and Erika Benjston, who woke up at 6:30 a.m. to make first chair. They stood at the front of the line, waiting for lift operators to allow them on.
The pair had already been skiing runs earlier in the week by skinning up the mountain before the season officially opened. Skiers in Juneau for more than a decade, the women said they catch first chair a few times each season.
Nearly nine inches of snow fell overnight Friday, helping to bring many smiles to skiers' faces as people agreed the conditions were excellent at the top for opening day.
The day started early Saturday, with ski area employees greeted by two men waiting in front of the lodge to have their pictures taken for their season passes.
"Everyone's anxious," said ticket sales employee Sandy Warner, who helped process season passes. "Everybody's got such a big smile. It's fun to see them excited."
Getting his 15th day in, Chris Trollan said he was relieved he could just sit on the chair instead of hiking for turns. He stayed up until past midnight Friday getting his gear together for opening day.
Still in the lodge as the first skiers in line moved onto the lift, Richie Behuniak didn't seem hurried to start his season, saying he predicted a great year of riding for himself.
"I'm just feeling it," the 19-year-old said. "I just feel like living."
Craig Kasberg, 16, estimated 20 inches of powder at the top of East Bowl as he rode Ptarmigan a second time Saturday.
"It's deep and light at the top and a dream," said the Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore, who was skiing with friends from school.
The ski area reported a 68-inch base on top and 14 inches at the base at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. By Sunday morning, nearly three additional inches had fallen on top.
East Bowl chutes opened at 11:15 a.m. Saturday and the West Bowl opened at about 1:30 p.m.
The resort will be closed today through Wednesday, then open again Thursday, and will remain open every day except Christmas day until Jan. 7.
Only Ptarmigan lift ran for the opening weekend, as General Manager Kirk Duncan said conditions were for advanced-intermediate and expert skiers only.
Some obstacles were marked, while others were not. Blueberry bushes and tree stumps still showed in spots, requiring skill to maneuver around, he said.
Snowcat operators were not yet able to use tillers that produce the smooth, corduroy-like surface favored by beginner skiers, Duncan said.
The ski area projected an opening date of Dec. 8 this year, but missed it by one week. It's still an early opening, and Duncan said continued season pass sales would increase revenues. Sales of multi-visit cards could also improve, he said, since the five- and 10-ticket books make good stocking stuffers.
Season passes are still available for $499 for adults and $399 for youth and seniors. Children's season passes cost $149. Purchase tickets on the Internet at www.juneau.org/eaglecrest.
Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or email@example.com.