Snowmaking improvements and beer and wine sales in store for Eaglecrest this season

Eaglecrest Ski Area bought six new snowmaking machines this year to expand their snowmaking operations. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)
Eaglecrest Ski Area bought six new snowmaking machines this year to expand their snowmaking operations. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Summer and fall may be the off-season for Eaglecrest Ski Area, but things have still been busy for Juneau’s municipal ski area since the snow melted.

With the first snow appearing on top of the mountains, Juneau residents are starting to wonder what kind of winter it will be on the ski slopes.

The same goes for Eaglecrest General Manager Dave Scanlan and his staff.

They’ve been busy this off-season, and they can’t wait to see the crowds return to the mountain.

“Oh gosh, we’re just excited to be getting all these projects done and just having another great season under our belt,” he said.

Last year, after a snowy November, record temperatures in December and January and little precipitation in the beginning of February meant parts of the mountain didn’t open until almost March. There just wasn’t enough snow.

So Scanlan and his team have spent the last few months revamping the mountain’s snowmaking operation.

Eaglecrest relies on a gravity water pumping system fed by Cropley Lake, about two-thirds of the way up the west side of the mountain.

“We could make snow really good in the base area but we couldn’t connect the dots to where the natural snow base was deeper, you know, during warm weather,” he said.

Now, a new water pumping station and pipeline will provide the pressure needed to make snow on the mountain’s midsection.

“We’ve been making incredibly fast progress on the project up to date,” Scanlan said. “So, very confident we’re going to see that pipeline completed to the top of Hooter, we’re going to see that pump station come online this year.”

Scanlan said they hope to be able to extend the pipe to the base of the Black Bear Chair, too, before the start of the season.

They also bought six used snowmaking machines to expand their snowmaking abilities.

“We’ve got 10 guns in the fleet now, so really excited to also have that ability to move machines around faster, to be more mobile.”

Mechanical problems with the Black Bear Chair last year also kept the east side of the mountain closed for most of the season.

The solution is a new 250-kilowatt generator installed for Black Bear. Scanlan said they’re hooking up the wiring this week.

“It will also give us the versatility to power up our snow guns when we’re making snow at the bottom of Black Bear.”

Other new features this winter include a new ramp for the Ptarmigan Chair at the top of the mountain, a new entrance to the lower Nordic trails and, if all goes according to plan, beer and wine sales in the lodge for the first time ever.

The Juneau Assembly approved this new venture last year.

Scanlan said they’re finishing up the permitting stage now. They will need final permit approval from the Assembly in November.

They’re still renovating the new bar space and have a vendor lined up.

“It’s a third-party concessionaire agreement. Louie’s Douglas Inn is our vendor, so really excited with the Douglas Island connection.”

As for the snow outlook, that’s anyone’s guess right now.

Scanlan said a potential El Nino influence could bode well for upper mountain snowpack. The mountain saw its first dusting of snow at higher elevations last week.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “I’ve also heard from longtime locals that following hot, sunny summers have been very snowy winters. So we’ll see if that connects up as far as some of the historical trends. Always keep the optimism up.”

Eaglecrest’s target opening this year is the first weekend in December.

In the meantime, the Juneau Ski Club’s annual Ski Sale will be Nov. 3 at Centennial Hall.

Eaglecrest will have a table there offering gear tune-ups and season passes. The deadline to purchase a season pass at the cheaper Tier 1 pricing is Sunday.

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