Two skiers settle into a lift chair as they pass trees with fresh snow at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Dec. 20, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Two skiers settle into a lift chair as they pass trees with fresh snow at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Dec. 20, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: Eaglecrest Ski Area attempting to do too much without sensible leadership

Ever wonder what the 50-year-old clearcut above the beginner slopes at Eaglecrest is about? Dubbed “Mund’s Folly” by ski area founder Craig Lindh after the first mountain manager Dick Mund, this was supposed to be a transition slope for skiers to get comfortable before trying “the chairlift,” as it was known in those days. Trouble was the slope was too steep and the entire season-long clearing effort wasted. The little cable tow involved would have been much better utilized leaving it where it had been the year before, on what’s now called Sourdough. It was a perfect failure, just an eyesore of use to nobody.

The ski area has had many failures over the years, though few as complete as Mund’s Folly. In the early ‘80s it had an ambitious manager that pushed and got approval for many projects that later were abandoned. Seven-day operation including four nights and the Alpine Summer experiment were examples. Both were unsustainable and died quickly, though not before the manager had left town.

At this time the ski area also underwent the construction of a snowmaking system funded by a windfall of $500,000 from the state. Many will remember the promises made about how this was going to transform the ski area and the entire lower mountain was going to be covered, etc. It didn’t quite go that way.

The system built to pump water downhill from Cropley Lake never once was used to actually make snow and the pump motor was later salvaged to serve as the auxiliary power unit for the Ptarmigan chairlift. The snowmaking system itself became a gravity feed affair serving the beginner’s slopes and the lower mountain runouts. How much money was wasted in this process, still ongoing, is anybody’s guess.

Seeing a pattern here? It’s called attempting too much. Rather than adopting a policy of sensible and incremental infrastructure improvements, Eaglecrest has instead over the years opted for this or that project that seemed more important at the time to those in charge.

The tubing hill is a good example of this. Quite the rage down south, any ski area without one was missing the boat, supposedly. Heedless of the realities of being a town of some 30,000 people and thus a very confined market, the board of directors at that time insisted management install one — so it did and a few years later left it shut down and abandoned. Another dead end.

With the two main chairlifts approaching 50 years of use and the other two being rebuilt, now Eaglecrest has embarked on the most ambitious and extravagant undertaking since its inception. Already costing millions of dollars before ground has even been broken to rebuild this used tram and its attendant infrastructure, there is no predicting how much the city is going to be asked to cough up to do so in the future. To fly this albatross will require a project manager of special skills and long experience building tramways. Snagging someone out of the city’s engineering staff won’t do it. And the timeline is completely impossible as it stands, particularly since that manager has yet to be hired.

This project will transform Eaglecrest, but frankly, I’m glad I knew the old Eaglecrest before it got so grandiose.

• Rick Kaufman worked at Eaglecrest for 25 ski seasons. He started as a lift operator and closed as operations manager under Area Manager Paul Swanson. He retired in 2002, receiving a lifetime pass, the second person to be awarded one after Hillary Lindh.

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