The general manager of Juneau’s ski area says the unseasonable winter weather has played heck with the mountain’s snowpack.
Warm-up cycles have taken a toll on the mountain’s natural snow, said Eaglecrest Ski Area’s Dave Scanlan.
“The weather has certainly been a rollercoaster this year,” Scanlan said. “We’ve had a lot of abnormal high temperatures with heavy rain.”
The National Weather Service says November looked promising. And abnormally low temperatures let the ski area make snow on the lower mountain at the beginning of the season.
But in December and January, there were record high temperatures. Rain melted most of the snow. Then February was cooler than normal, but there was little precipitation.
National Weather Service meteorologist intern Sharon Sullivan said the snowpack is far below normal this year.
“In March here, our highest snow depth was 35,” she said. “Looking at about this time last year, they had their highest snow depth in March was 73 inches at the base, and their total snowfall through March 21st was about 50 inches. As of right now March 2018, they’ve had 16.7 inches of snow.”
Scanlan said about three to four weeks of good conditions brought more snow. The ski area opened its Hooter and Ptarmigan lifts in February, and had an increase in traffic.
A self-professed ski bum, Bruce Griggs has been president of the Juneau Ski Club for three years, and a race dad for about 10 years. The 57-year-old father of twin teen daughters spends a lot of time at Eaglecrest.
“Over the years, I think I figured this out one time, I think my average is probably 70 days a year we spend skiing and most of that is at Eaglecrest,” Griggs said.
He said that in previous years, during a bad season, he’d go to somewhere else with better conditions. But not this year.
“It was a strange year,” he said. “It’d be like we’re right on the cusp of almost opening. We’d get really close and then it would rain. Then the forecast would change and just enough to keep that carrot dangling in front of ya. So we stayed here and weathered it.”
Griggs calls it “ski bum cabin fever.” Instead, he went hiking and did other activities.
Some people still went skiing, he said, even in muddy conditions.
“So many people were still pretty upbeat about the kind of winter we had and so many people persevered and made it skiing and went skiing even when the conditions were gnarly,” he said.
Eaglecrest General Manager Scanlan says that historically, March is a big snow month, which can make for good spring skiing.
“It is really going to be weather dependent,” he said. “We’re just going to be taking it a week at a time and seeing what the forecast is going to bring our way.”
The City and Borough of Juneau subsidizes and owns Eaglecrest Ski Area, which handles about 50,000 skier visits a year.
Eaglecrest is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday and is scheduled to close April 8 for the season. Eaglecrest’s Black Bear lift is undergoing repairs.