Part III in a series on outstanding volunteer-supported assets in the Capital City
Awesome snow event this week. We were scooping knee deep powder off the driveway when a neighbor drove by, rolled down his window and yelled, “Forget that! Get your skis!” He was headed for Eaglecrest, Juneau’s community owned ski area.
How the area got here is a great story for another time. In short, Juneau owes Eaglecrest as we know it to enthusiastic volunteers who began with a rope tow on the Perseverance Trail in 1932. The tow moved to Douglas Meadows in 1935. The Juneau Ski Club expanded runs up the mountain and to Dan Moller bowl in the mid-1950’s where it stayed until downhill skiing moved to Eaglecrest in the winter of 1975/76. You can read part of the story on a lovely little website called ‘Alaska Lost Ski Area Project’.** Their pictures and documents were supplied from the Juneau Ski Club archives by Bob Janes.
Putting the ‘Community’ in a Community Ski Area.
Eaglecrest today has a hard working paid staff supported by a Board of Directors, the Juneau Ski Club, Nordic Ski Club, the Eaglecrest Foundation and wide variety of talented volunteers. Funding comes from the City and Borough, lift ticket sales, lesson fees, locker and equipment rentals, grants, endowments, donations, local sponsors, fundraisers, November Ski Swap (last year was the 64th), renting out the lodge and whatever else people can think of.
In some places skiing is an elitist sport for the affluent. At Eaglecrest the Board’s vision is to keep the area affordable and accessible, especially to young people. A few examples: 1) Kids under six ski for free. 2) Every fifth grader in Juneau can ski free during his or her fifth grade year AND they get one free ski lesson AND one day of free equipment rental. 3) For grades 6, 7 and 8 the non-profit Eaglecrest Foundation has a Books2Boards program with one hundred twenty-five slots to provide free: bus transportation, equipment, lessons, lift tickets and warm clothing to deserving young people. The Foundation works this out with educators in the community. The kids’ part is to do their best in school. 4) An Eaglecrest school group coordinator connects entire Juneau classes, including home school programs and kids who want to ski for their PE credits, with substantial mid-week discounts. As I write this, (St.Patrick’s Day) fifty-something middle school kids, many of whom had never skied or snow boarded, have just been set up with equipment, a lesson and a great day on the mountain. Teachers and chaperones are included in the bargain prices. 5) Other villages and towns from Southeast who send groups of kids to Juneau can get the same classroom deal our kids do. If out of town kids’ schedules don’t allow for skiing during mid-week Eaglecrest works to get them in on weekends. 7) Young people from elsewhere in the state, for example SERRC’s ‘All Alaska Academy’ which brings kids to see their Alaska legislators at work, can also get the deal. 8) Wait, there’s more! Eaglecrest partners with the Outdoor Recreation and Community Access Program (ORCA) to make the mountain accessible to people with disabilities. ORCA offers adaptive lessons, has a space at the Porcupine lodge and they are always looking for volunteers to be ski buddies. ORCA ski buddy volunteers get access to instructor lessons and a complimentary ski lift ticket for every 1.5 days they volunteer. 9) Big Brothers Big Sisters can ski two for one: Bigs pay for their pass. Littles get a free lift ticket.
What is the true value of a hometown ski area?
Americans, especially professionals and skilled trades workers, can live anywhere. When you ask someone why they came to Juneau, and why they stay, the answers are pretty consistent. They moved here for a job. They stay because of the town’s unique combination of: small, literate, low crime, close to nature, great trail system, egalitarian, fishing, family friendly—and surprisingly often—Eaglecrest. More than once, riding up the chairlift on a good snow day, a stranger has gestured to the mountain and said to me, “This is why I live here.”
In addition to attracting/keeping excellent people to town Eaglecrest is a family magnet drawing the whole spectrum from babies in backpacks to great grandparents. Kids lessons start at three years-old and a kid who grows up skiing at Eaglecrest will be confident at any ski area anywhere. Plus, wherever they go in life they’ll have that connection skiers have with other skiers. They can test their limits with adults nearby but not too close. Your teenagers have good role models that are not you, so they’ll actually listen. You have good role models, too. Sig Olson skied eighty times a year into his eighties. That raises the bar of what being eighty is about doesn’t it? It’s like Hugh Hefner said, “Eighty is the new forty.” Maybe we don’t have the mansion or the bunnies like Hef but we can go skiing like Sig.
The area spans 640 acres with a vertical drop of 1,620 feet. There are four double chair-lifts, two lodges, a cafeteria, an equipment retail/rental/repair shop and a warm-up hut at the top. The chairs service 36 downhill runs: 20% novice, 40% intermediate and 40% expert. There are also 10 kilometers of tracked Nordic trails. It’s open Thursday through Monday from December to April except on school breaks when it’s open seven days a week. Lifts are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Juneau chapter of the National Ski Patrol is first on/last off the mountain every day. Maintenance crews and groomers work 24/7. The lodge/cafeteria/rentals open at 8:30 a.m. A snow bus runs from town on weekends and holidays. There’s an excellent website with up to date snow reports, fee schedules, clinics, which trails are open/groomed and whole lot more.*
Eaglecrest is a place to bring your out of town guests and relatives. To everyone’s surprise my brother-in-law proposed there when he and his girlfriend came up from Chicago for spring skiing. Towards the end of the day, at the top of Ptarmigan lift Dan got down on one knee, opened a box with the ring and popped the question. Colleen said “Yes!” and last winter they brought their kids, their sweet nine year-old daughter and the fearless five year-old twins, up to go skiing at Eaglecrest.
Speaking of visiting, if you visit relatives out of state, Eaglecrest has reciprocal agreements with ski areas around the Pacific Northwest, and as far away as New England, where you can ski at a discount, or for free, by presenting your Eaglecrest season pass. You can also get discounts at half a dozen Juneau businesses by showing your season pass.
Our hometown ski area is open until April 07 and spring skiing can be the absolute best of the year. As of today there are 63 inches of snow at the summit with more snow in the forecast. Clinics and private lessons are still happening, annual spring events will be the slush cup and the Bunny Chase (where a six foot bunny skis down from the top of Hooter chair tossing candy, followed by many enthusiastic little kids). In the last week people come in costumes…dinosaurs, yoda, tuxedos, dresses, shirtless if it’s warm. Check the weather, check the snow report, leave work or leave school—hey, I’m not trying to cause trouble, I’m just channeling my neighbor, “Forget that. Get your skis.”—and if you’ve never been to Eaglecrest, especially if you’ve never gone skiing, think about giving it a go. Age, race, gender, body-type—the mountain doesn’t care. You belong there. It’s yours.
**Alaska Lost Ski Area Project www.alsap.org
This article originally appeared in March, 2017 issue of the Capital City Weekly but I updated snow conditions and dates on February 15, 2019.