Eaglecrest yearning for the perfect storm

Ski area creeping up on Jan. 13 record for latest opening date

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Warm weather has become the grinch who stole downhill skiing from Juneau residents.

The weather patterns are unusual, said Gary Mendivil, business manager for the Eaglecrest Ski Area, but the same patterns are plaguing Alyeska Resort south of Anchorage, which usually opens by Thanksgiving. This was, in fact, the first time in 27 years that Alyeska had not opened by Thanksgiving.

Eaglecrest is in the same grassy green boat.

"We need natural snowfall to open," Mendivil said. "We need two feet and right now we have three or four inches at the day lodge. So we are hoping this weather pattern will shift and do something different. It has been either 35 degrees and raining all the way to the top, or cold with no precipitation."

For a time, Eaglecrest made fake white stuff. "We made artificial snow for about a week between Dec. 3 and 10. We focused most of our attention with the artificial snow on the lower mountain in the high traffic areas between the upper chair lift and the bottom of the intermediate trails," Mendivil said.


Manual power: Bill Audette and Patty Collins hike past the top of the Hooter chairlift Tuesday at Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Because of the uncooperative weather, Eaglecrest began selling season passes at a discount at the end of November. With prices for passes slightly less than in past years, the public has gobbled them up.

But, typically, December is "a very busy time for us because people have gotten all kinds of fun toys for Christmas or other holidays and are ready to try them out," he said.

With school break beginning Thursday, Eaglecrest is fielding "a lot of calls from impatient parents" who want to plan activities for their kids.

In the past 10 years, the latest that Eaglecrest opened was 1996, when there was a "strong El Nino which did not allow us to open until Jan. 13," Mendivil said. Typically, the resort opens the first week of December.

"At this point we still have faith" that snow will fall in sufficient quantities soon, Mendivil said. "The temperature is 35 to 38 degrees downtown. When it's that temperature at sea level, it usually snows up here and sticks. One good storm or one and a half can do it for us," he added.

"We are selling some skis but we are not selling as many as we would if there were snow on the ground," said Betsy Fischer, one of the owners of Foggy Mountain Shop, a downtown sports store which stocks cross-country boards.

"We remain hopeful," Fischer said. "I am always amazed at how hopeful Juneau skiers are - and, for good reason, because snow will come eventually."

With fingers crossed, Mendivil is continuing to plan annual Eaglecrest events such as the Snowflake Festival, which includes torchlight parades for kids and grownups on Christmas Eve. Holiday ski camps, lessons for beginners and others, are scheduled for Dec. 26-3l. For information about the ski school, call 790-2001.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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