Eaglecrest ski instructor Sarah Milks rides up an Eaglecrest chairlift with a fellow instructor, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (Lance Nesbitt | For the Juneau Empire)

Bumpy riding greets Eaglecrest opening day skiers

Like many at Eaglecrest for opening day on Saturday, 46-year-old Jason Donig didn’t come to ride the Porcupine Chair.

Donig was almost finished lacing up his second snowboard boot outside his double-cab pickup truck in the parking lot when he detected slight motion on the mountain.

“What’s going on, is Hooter open?” Donig asked a nearby Lucas Merli, who was also gearing up for frigid and snowy conditions.

Hooter was indeed open. After reporting all lifts besides Porcupine would be closed for opening day, Eaglecrest surprised visitors by opening the chair for a few hours Saturday. But it didn’t make much of a difference to Donig or the group of skiers he was about to hike up the mountain with. They came up to ski down from the top of Ptarmigan Chair for some fresh powder.

“Hooter being open is a bonus,” Donig said. “But most people will still just go up and skin up to the top.”

Ski skins are strips of a synthetic material that attach to the underside of skis or splitboards that then enable one to ski-climb up the mountain.

About a half hour later, just before noon, an Eaglecrest employee from behind the ticket window said they’d sold about 30 tickets in the three hours Porcupine was running. The number likely did not reflect how many people were on the mountain — many people like Donig never sat on a chair all day but instead “skinned” up the mountain using a splitboard or skis.

A few minutes later, inside the Base Lodge, Mountain Lift barista Aubrie Cox shook chocolate sprinkles on top of identical whip cream masses plopped on the lids of two small hot chocolates. Cox, working her first winter at Mountain Lift, said the drink was popular so far that morning.

Minutes later, Wayne Stevens, 65, and Dave Lefevre, 63, had gotten their fill of Porcupine runs for the morning. Both former board members for the ski area and longtime ski enthusiasts, they were in no rush to test their luck on the ungroomed green circles and blue squares under the Hooter Chair.

“Everyone we’ve talked to have said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s pretty sketchy, but the kids are ridin’ it,’” Stevens said. “So that’s good, they’ll pack it all down.”

As Stevens and Lefevre were leaving the lodge, Rachael Stocker, Casey Smyke and Haley Harrison assembled at the base of the Hooter chair. They said their first run of the day wasn’t too “sketchy” in their opinion.

“There was some kinda big boulders all over the place at the top you have to watch out for, but that’s really it,” Stocker said.

The three 20-year-olds, while relatively new to Juneau as University of Alaska Southeast students, were already well-acquainted with Eaglecrest. They have been making a habit out of hiking up on the mountain to ski this winter.

Harrison, a junior exchange student from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire along with Stocker, said Alaska skiing has already won her over.

“I like it because it’s a lot more backcountry and less resort-like,” Harrison said. “A lot of the places that we go to are resorts and just focus on (terrain) parks a lot.”

“I feel like we never really got to see backcountry until we came here and started hiking up,” Stocker added.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nolin.ainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow the Empire Sports on Twitter @akempiresports and Facebook @JuneauSports for live sporting event updates.

A daring snowboarder goes airborne at Eaglecrest, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (Lance Nesbitt | For the Juneau Empire)

A daring snowboarder goes airborne at Eaglecrest, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (Lance Nesbitt | For the Juneau Empire)

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