Eaglecrest Ski Area is seeking to purchase a gondola system from an Austrian ski area to expand their summer operations. (Screenshot)

Eaglecrest Ski Area is seeking to purchase a gondola system from an Austrian ski area to expand their summer operations. (Screenshot)

Eaglecrest seeks $2M to acquire new gondola for ski area

It would allow Eaglecrest to drastically expand summer operations and tourism opportunities, the GM said.

The Eaglecrest Summer Operations Taskforce brought a motion to the City and Borough of Juneau Committee of the Whole to purchase and transport a unique gondola system to Juneau for an initial cost of $2 million during a Monday meeting.

The committee motioned to forward the ordinance to a public meeting on Feb. 28.

“The board has been looking for the last few years at the very least, getting at the bare minimum, revenue-neutral,” said Eaglecrest general manager Dave Scanlan in the meeting. “To do that, to fund our ongoing infrastructure going forward, we need summer activities and we need some sort of covered conveyance system, lift, gondola in the summer to do that.”

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The cost of purchasing and shipping the gondola system from the Austrian ski area that’s upgrading to a higher-volume gondola system would be $2 million, as opposed to a cost for a new system which could reach north of $15 million, Scanlan said.

“What’s unique about it is it has much lower operating costs, much lower maintenance costs, and it’s a very simple basic machine, but it’s able to do what we need it to do, in both summer and winter seasons,” Scanlan said.

It would help to make Eaglecrest a viable option for summer tourism, which could bring Eaglecrest closer to breaking even or even becoming profitable, Scanlan said.

“Used gondolas with the ability to have a mid station and large enough to fit Eaglecrest are very rare, especially for the length and vertical we need to install it at Eaglecrest,” Scanlan said. “We don’t see any other used gondolas coming on the market for two years. There may be a gondola without a mid-station arriving in three years.”

The window to acquire the system is a brief one, said Mike Satre, a member of the Eaglecrest board. The relative bargain available to the city was a significant one, said committee member Wade Bryson.

“By taking advantage of a smokin’ deal, we’re bringing extra value that we wouldn’t have to charge taxpayers for,” Bryson said. “If we did it in any other direction, we would have to charge taxpayers.”

The gondola could potentially replace the Ptarmigan lift or run another route to open up more of the mountain, Scanlan said.

“This would be a really core piece of summer and winter operations,” Scanlan said. “We’ve been working with the Eaglecrest board to refine the alignment options.”

Adding the gondola also gives Eaglecrest to expand operations built around it, Sartre said, such as tubing or high-elevation Nordic skiing areas.

“The gondola is a start,” Sartre said. “If we can get that in, we can add the loft, we can add the drink service.”

Mayor Beth Weldon questioned the validity of the cost projections, which would require at least another $5 million or more to get the entire gondola system up and running. Scanlan’s projection of capturing 3% of guests during a season similar to 2019 would eliminate general fund requirements for the recreation area.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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