While it’s a bummer Eaglecrest Ski Area has rescheduled its opening to next weekend instead of this weekend due to lack of snow, the outlook for the coming season and beyond is considerably brighter, General Manager Dave Scanlan told local business leaders Thursday.
“Unfortunately Mother Nature has been playing her way with us this past week,” he said during a presentation at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon at the Juneau Moose Family Center. “So it’s pushing off our opening day for one more weekend, hopefully. The snow was falling as I drove down the mountain (today), so we’re feeling pretty good and getting ready to run some snowmaking in the morning.”
As of Thursday the ski resort is scheduled to be open Dec. 9-10, for a “long weekend” Dec. 15-17 and then daily during its holiday schedule Dec. 20-Jan. 7 (the ski area will be closed Christmas and New Year’s days). Its regular season operations are scheduled to begin Jan. 10.
Juneau experienced a record number of cruise ship visitors this year, following the sharp dropoff and gradual recovery resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Scanlan said both season pass sales and interest from visitors elsewhere appear strong for the coming ski season.
“Last year we hit a record with 3,000 season’s pass holders and multi-visit holders,” he said. “This year we’re getting really close.”
Also, Eaglecrest is part of the Powder Alliance, which means season pass holders at member ski areas can spend up to three free days at other locations.
“We’re up to 150 resorts that have some sort of reciprocal benefits with Eaglecrest,” Scanlan said, adding the number of independent visitors last season was 531 compared to 289 the year before.
Staffing at Eaglecrest, as with many employers throughout Alaska and elsewhere, has been a struggle in recent years — with the ski area getting national headlines in 2021 due to employee shortages and pay that was below the state’s minimum wage. The city raised pay rates soon after and Scanlan said Thursday he is encouraged by this season’s participation in a J-1 student visa worker program Eaglecrest has used for the past decade.
“We’re very excited we’re going to have some foreign workers from Peru, Brazil and Costa Rica,” he said. “Right now we’re up to 22 of those workers that are going to come in to help us provide the backbone of our winter employment.”
The first of those workers are scheduled to arrive starting Friday and they will be housed in dorm space at the University of Alaska Southeast under a partnership agreement, Scanlan said.
Scanlan also provided an update on the gondola project that has been a controversial acquisition, with Goldbelt Inc. agreeing to give the city $10 million to partially fund the installation in exchange for a share of the future revenues. He said the hope is to have “the bulk of the construction really being geared up for the summer of ‘25.”
“We’d love to be able to ski on the gondola for the winter of ‘25-‘26,” he said. “If things go great maybe we can welcome some summer visitors in the fall of ‘25. But we really are focused on being ready to rumble for the summer of 2026.”
The gondola’s 12 cabins that each hold up to 15 passengers will be clustered into clustered in four pods of three cabins, Scanlan said.
“So when it’s going up and down the mountain it’s actually going to look more like a tram, and operate some more similarly to a tram, but it will give us a total hourly capacity of 750 passengers per hour,” he said.
While some residents and officials have expressed concerns about the ultimate cost of the project to the city, the length of time to install it, and the impacts of increased tourism activity at and Goldbelt’s involvement with the city-owned ski area. But Scanlan said the gondola is a key part of Eaglecrest’s future due to warming conditions scientists attribute to climate change.
“As we have warm winter weather the gondola is going to give us a lot of ability to not be so reliant on all of our revenue coming in the winter season, but being able to round out and generate revenue all year long with all of the infrastructure that we have around the mountain,” he said.