Eaglecrest chairlift back in operation after Juneau windstorm

Backpack wheels by damaged Ptarmigan chairlift pole on Insane
A backpack and wheels sit near the base of the damaged Ptarmigan chairlift pole at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Douglas Island on Feb. 13, 2021. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A chairlift providing access to the upper portion of the city-owned Eaglecrest Ski Area has been repaired after last week’s high winds. And, it’s back in operation.

General Manager Dave Scanlan said it was a freak of nature event that has not happened at Eaglecrest Ski Area in almost 40 years. Early last Thursday, chairs on the 4,700-foot long Ptarmigan Chairlift were swinging back and forth, pushed by high winds.

“As the wind gusts picked up about a third of the way up the mountain between our lift tower seven and eight is our longest span where the chairs are the highest off the ground,” Scanlan said. “And, it swung the chairs to the point that we had two chairs flip over the wrong side of the haul rope. So, they were dangling down and the clip that keeps the chair on the lift was sitting on the wrong side.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Jake Ruckman said a high-pressure system over Canada created the 67 to 72 mile per hour winds at Eaglecrest that morning.

“And this was causing a very, very strong pressure gradient over not just Juneau, but much of the northern panhandle of Alaska,” Ruckman said. “The winds were not by any means just localized to downtown Juneau or Eaglecrest. They were all over.”

Damaged Ptarmigan chairlift pole on Insane
High winds led to damage to this chairlift pole at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Douglas Island, pictured here on Feb.13, 2021. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

When the chairlift was started up later that morning, the two flipped chairs got caught in a lift tower’s pulley system. One chair fell, while the other was partially dislodged. The pulley system on the top of the tower appeared damaged, while the haul rope, or the thick metal cable that the chairs hang from, had derailed.

Ptarmigan Chairlift takes skiers and snowboarders to the top of the ski area and provides access to both the west and east bowls.

“It’s the most popular chairlift. Everybody loves the Ptarmigan chair,” Scanlan said.

Initially, Scanlan said he couldn’t predict when it would be repaired because they didn’t know the amount of damage and whether they would need any replacement parts. He also expected to bring people to Juneau to inspect repairs.

The ski area’s other upper mountain chairlift, Black Bear on the east side, as well as Hooter and Porcupine on the lower mountain were still operating. Still, even those skiers who said they didn’t ride Ptarmigan much were disappointed.

“Well, that was pretty surprising because everybody was going on Ptarmigan. And, I didn’t expect the winds to be that crazy. At least nobody was on it,” said Cerys Hudson.

Eaglecrest figured it out and fixed it quickly.

“We had a really productive weekend. We just went through a really methodical process to go through all of the various steps of the repair.” Scanlan said. “And thankfully, everything went about as good as it could have gone.”

Scanlan said they replaced the two damaged chairs, inspected and tested the haul rope, and readjusted and realigned the tower and the haul rope pulley set. The haul rope and ski lift inspectors did their inspections remotely.

And, just in time for Wednesday morning’s fresh snow, the Ptarmigan Chairlift resumed hauling skiers and snowboarders to the top of the mountain.

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