Eaglecrest master plan underway

Jubilant beginning skiers, 2011

Developing hiking and biking trails and summer tourist attractions are very important to the future of Eaglecrest Ski Area, according to a random telephone survey of Juneau residents.

The survey is part of the long-range master plan being prepared to guide area development over the next 20 years.

A study of the Eaglecrest market, the survey, and examples of successful summer activities at other ski areas were presented last night (Wednesday) at a public meeting on the master plan.

Jim Calvin of Juneau research firm McDowell Group is leading the work. He said the single most important component of the master plan study is community input.

“The market assessment is important, understanding of what goes on in ski areas across the country is important, the economics and financial feasibility are important, but first and foremost we have to know what is acceptable,” Calvin said. “What kind of future development is consistent with what current users and the community overall really value at Eaglecrest?”

Calvin said the telephone survey results are statistically representative of Juneau as a whole – both ski area users and non-users. But when he analyzed results by those groups, they were quite different. While 50 percent of non-users wanted summer activities, only 32 percent of skiers and snowboarders viewed them important.

Tapping into Juneau’s hundreds of thousands of summer cruise ship visitors may be a way to generate additional revenue for the ski area, but Calvin said it isn’t easy to break into that market.

“It’s not just build it and they will come. The main cruise lines each offer more than 40 different opportunities to see whales, see glaciers, flightseeting, you name it, so there’s a lot to do and there’s really stiff competition for the visitor dollar and visitor time,” he said. He says most people come to Juneau to experience Alaska, such as whales and glaciers. They purchase their tours in four-hour blocks and there’s little time to visit a ski area within the confines of the already limited day in town.

Calvin was careful to note the city-owned ski area is not planning to compete with private-sector operators.

“With respect to the master plan, it’s identifying those kinds of activities that might be compatible with community values,” he said. “Then when a private-sector operator comes to Eaglecrest management or board and says ‘I’d like to do X,’ they will have the plan, the documentation, the measure of community attitude to know whether that’s compatible with what we all think is the right way to manage Eaglecrest,” he explained.

McDowell Group is working with SE Group, an international ski area planning firm. Resort Planning Director Claire Humber has helped many areas build master plans, considered “working” documents.

“It’s not ‘here’s the answer, do it.’ A master plan should never be that,” Humber said. “A master plan is a process as much as it is a document. This is a way of evaluation as you move into the future.”

An online survey asking what types of development Juneau residents would like to see at Eaglecrest can be found at ski.juneau.com until the end of the month. Public comments also can be sent to facilitator Jan Caulfield at janc@gci.net.

It will be several months before the master plan is complete. A draft is expected in February, when another public meeting will be held.