Waiting for snow, and helping Mother Nature

Skiers and snowboarders may be distressed about the lack of snow this season, but managers of Eaglecrest Ski Area are not worried. There are still at least four months to go in the season and plenty of opportunities for plenty of snow to fall in the Juneau area.

Tuesday afternoon’s dusting may have been the first recorded snow at sea level in the last three weeks.

Only the runs off the Porcupine Chairlift at Eaglecrest have been open to skiers and snowboarders since the ski area opened earlier this month.

Eaglecrest’s Jeffra Clough said during Tuesday’s A Juneau Afternoon on KTOO that programs like Mountain Explorers, Mighty Mites, and Women’s Reach the Peak will be delayed until at least January 10, a week later than the original schedule. The ski area also will not be open on Monday, January 5th as originally planned, but it will reopen Thursday, January 8th.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 7 inches of snow at the base and 34 inches at the top of the mountain.

Ski area managers have extended a helping hand to Mother Nature. When temperatures dip to 20 degrees or lower on the mountain, snowmaking machines have been cranked up to provide a base for the real snow, when and if it falls. The machines operated overnight off the Porcupine Chairlift through Saturday, and until Tuesday morning near the base of the Ego and Lower Hillary’s runs just uphill of the Ptarmigan Chairlift.

“It’s a very cool system,” said Matt Lillard, general manager of the Eaglecrest Ski Area. “If you ever want to come up to take a look, just find a cold day early in the year and drive up to Eaglecrest and you can see them in action.”

Hear the Morning Edition interview with Eaglecrest Ski Area general manager Matt Lillard about making snow:

“To make snow, you basically need cold air and water,” Lillard said. “It really is that simple.”

Eaglecrest uses three fan guns or snowmaking machines that draw water from Cropley Lake.

“There’s a compressor in each one that makes compressed air,” Lillard said. “And then you add water at greater than 200 psi and a big fan to it. It really shoots it up into the air, and then it crystallizes and forms snow in the air, and then falls to the ground.”

Since the water supply is a gravity-fed system, the snowmaking machines can only be set up on the lower part of the mountain.

“So, if you’re looking up at the faces of Ego, Sourdough, and Sneaky, we can make snow about a quarter to a third up those trails and that’s the extent we can do it,” Lillard said.

He said it’s impossible to make snow for the upper part of the mountain without expensive booster pumps.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with latest conditions, quotes, and additional details.

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