Ron Flint takes a ride on the completed lower section of a mountain bike trail at the Eaglecrest Ski Area August 2015. Volunteers with the Juneau Freewheelers Cycle Club and Eaglecrest staff worked on the downhill trail. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ron Flint takes a ride on the completed lower section of a mountain bike trail at the Eaglecrest Ski Area August 2015. Volunteers with the Juneau Freewheelers Cycle Club and Eaglecrest staff worked on the downhill trail. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Eaglecrest to explore mountain bike course, install new snowmaking

World-renowned bike park firm to study viability of bike course; work to start next week on preseason improvements

A mountain bike course might be in the works for Eaglecrest Ski Area.

A world-renown bike park design group has planned a visit to Juneau to explore the option, said General Manager Dave Scanlan in a Wednesday phone interview.

New snowmaking, a revamped offramp for Eaglecrest’s summit lift and a generator upgrade top a list of ambitious improvements Scanlan said are on tap as the city-owned ski area prepares for snowfall.

Snow op looks to dirt

Bike course design firm Gravity Logic earned its expertise developing and maintaining Whistler Mountain Bike Park, considered the premier bike park in the world.

A representative for the company will visit Juneau the first week of October to perform a bike park feasibility study, Scanlan said.

“They’re the gold standard,” for bike park design, Scanlan said.

If the idea proves feasible, Eaglecrest would build mountain bike trails for all skill levels. It’s a similar setup to how the ski area is divided: green circles for beginners, blue squares for intermediate riders and black diamonds for experts.

The process of a fully-realized bike park is long, said “Gravity Logician” Rob Cocquyt in an email exchange with the Empire. A feasibility assessment accounts for topography, the current and expected bike culture, visitation projections and resort management goals.

“Until we spend a few days on the ground, it is impossible to determine what may or may not be possible,” Cocquyt wrote.

After that, it’s on to permitting, which can take months or years.

There’s already one mountain bike trail on Eaglecrest. The Sourdough Mountain Bike Trail on the lower mountain was built several years ago with volunteer and Eaglecrest labor.

More purpose-built trails would help eliminate user conflict at other Juneau trails, Scanlan said, where hikers and mountain bikers often use the same paths. A bike park would also provide Eaglecrest with an off-season revenue stream and help lure in non-skiers and snowboarders, two things Scanlan said the ski area could do to bolster operations in low-snow seasons.

[Eaglecrest Ski Area now allowed to sell alcohol]

The experience of riding in a bike park at a ski area compares to that of a good powder day skiing or snowboarding, Cocquyt said. Chairlifts allow riders to access slopes too steep to ride up, and to take multiple laps on the course in a day — which can be too tiring for many riders without a chairlift.

Great bike parks combine suitable terrain, proper vertical and professional planning and construction, Cocquyt wrote.

“Taking the time and energy to step back and look at the big picture — how the trails can be safe and progressive, how to keep riders coming back, how to build a bike park that riders tell their friends about — shows a commitment to doing it right the first time. We’re excited that Eaglecrest is on the right path,” Cocquyt wrote.

A final report from Gravity Logic is due by the end of November, both Scanlan and Cocquyt said.

^

New snowmaking

Eaglecrest will break ground this fall on the first phase of an extension of its snowmaking system, Scanlan said.

Right now, the ski area is able to make snow only about halfway up lower mountain runs served by the Hooter Chairlift. Snow conditions on the upper mountain are often better than on the lower mountain, but skiers can’t access higher elevations without a clear path to lift lines and the lodge at Eaglecrest’s lower reaches.

[Eaglecrest to break ground on public use cabin]

The problem is that the current snowmaking system stops short of the snow line during warm years, Scanlan said, leaving bare spots between skiable snow on the upper mountain and a man-made outrun leading to the lower mountain.

Scanlan hopes to complete work this year on an extension of their water line and the installation of a new pump to support snowmaking all the way up to the top of Hooter, eliminating that problem.

“It will allow Eaglecrest to lay down a really strong, thick base of snow that will get us up to the more typical snow and rain line during warmer weather patterns,” Scanlan said.

A second phase, planned for next summer, would connect the snowmaking system to the bottom of Black Bear Chairlift, Scanlan said.

Increasing the number of days Eaglecrest is open every year is a big priority for Scanlan, who’s entering just his second full season as general manager. More snowmaking will help the area remain open longer during warm winters, he said.

^

Revamped Ptarmigan ramp

The ski area has completed construction of a new offramp at the top of Ptarmigan Chairlift, which takes skiers to Eaglecrest’s highest elevations.

As previously designed, the offramp was narrow and didn’t support snowcat access. The new rock and earth base provides a sturdier, wider platform for workers to operate snowcats.

It affords the area more control over shaping the slope and conserving snow at the top. The old, narrow offramp angled down sharply from the lift and was difficult for the uninitiated to get used to. The new one should be a bit friendlier.

“It’s a totally different experience this year,” Scanlan said.

^

Generator upgrade

A new generator for the Black Bear Chairlift now sits in the Eaglecrest parking lot, awaiting upcoming installation, Scanlan said.

Work will begin next week to install the new generator, which Scanlan said is a little better suited for its job. The old generator is a bit large, he said. It’ll be put to use powering the snowmaking system.

The new generator is quieter and comes with an insulated enclosure, he added.

Season pass prices go up in October

Season pass prices are now on sale at their lowest price, but that won’t last much longer. Unlimited season passes are going for $469 for adults. Prices will increase to $549 after Oct. 14. and $699 on Nov. 5.

Season passes can be purchased online or over the phone.

Know & Go:

Discover Eaglecrest Day

What: Discounted zip line tickets, Chairlift rides and barbecue at a pre-ski-season celebration. Pass sales and gear fitting services are also available. Juneau Mountain Bike Alliance will hold a race on the Sourdough Mountain Bike Trail (more details on registration available soon at skijuneau.com).

When: Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Where: Eaglecrest Ski Area, 3000 Fish Creek Road on Douglas Island.


• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.


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