PUBLISHED: 5:04 PM on Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Eaglecrest expansion deserves regional support

"Another day in paradise!"

My companion swept an arm to the north, taking in the expanse of the snow-covered mountain tops of Douglas Island. From the Ptarmigan chair lift on the island's Eaglecrest ski area, there are few scenes more breathtaking in Southeast Alaska.

"Another day in paradise," he repeated reverently. "It's why we live here, the chance to be close to this."

You don't have to ski to appreciate the breath-taking beauty of our mountains this month, cloaked in hundreds of inches of snow.

Combined with the growing light of February, the additional snowfall we've received makes for an incredible and endless series of vistas.

It's really a shame to live in one of the few cities with its own hometown ski area, and not ski.

Not slip off the top of the Island into a sea of new snow.

Not hike up Pittman Ridge and look down the backside of Douglas Island to the salt water and Admiralty Island beyond.

Not glide an entire run over new powder without a break or seeing another skier.

Even mediocre skiers like yours truly can more than appreciate the last two weekends of new snow and clear skies that have been especially special in an incredible season at Eaglecrest.

Since it's formation in 1974, Eaglecrest has been the crown jewel of winter sports in Southeast Alaska.

It is no small thing that one of three Juneau residents skis at least occasionally.

That's easily five times the national average. And as much a reflection of our love of the outdoors and the slopes as it is Eaglecrest's convenience.

Eaglecrest shares skier attentions with only one other true ski area, Alyeska, Girdwood's metro-area resort. And even Alyeska can't touch the convenience of slopes within a dozen miles of downtown.

From 45,000 to 60,000 skiers a year visit the area, general manager Kirk Duncan said, and that includes snow enthusiasts from all over Southeast Alaska, not just Juneau.

"For example, this weekend we had 125 kids from Sitka Young Life," Duncan said.

Now Eaglecrest needs an upgrade, to make the most of the winter ski season.

Whether you want to attribute it to global warming or just a recent warm spell, the early winter snow line at Eaglecrest has moved steadily higher from the 1,100 feet above sea level where the base lodge is located, to about 1,500 feet.

That's made it difficult to use Eaglecrest's current ski lifts effectively.

Juneau voters understand Eaglecrest's value to the city and in 2005 approved $800,000 to purchase an all-season, mid-mountain lift that will carry skiers above the current snow line.

The initial improvement has now grown to an improved lift that will replace the Platter lift, making it easier for beginning skiers to get started.

A local committee, headed Eaglecrest regular and former Department of Revenue commissioner Bill Corbus, is raising $150,000 to cover the additional cost.

"We're trying to get everybody involved," Duncan said. "People are realizing that Eaglecrest is a valuable winter community asset, worth support from everybody."

Contributors can have their name permanently attached to one chair of the new lift for $1,000 or to a tower of the lift for $5,000.

"Fortunately, the tower program has been especially successful with many businesses jumping on board already. But we'll take any donation, of any size, and any donation above $100 gets listed on the plaque in the lodge."

For more details on the campaign, ask any member of the fundraising committee which includes Corbus, Jim Calvin, Kirk Duncan, Al Clough, Rusty Shaub, Susan Bell, Steve Handy, Doug Wessen, George Elgee, Clark Gruening, Fred Baxter and Jeffra Clough.

Contributions can be mailed to Eaglecrest Chairlift Campaign, P.O. Box 20169, Juneau, AK 99802, or call 907-790-2000, ext. 221.

How often do you get to invest in your own piece of paradise?

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and regional advertising director of Morris Communications newspapers in Alaska. Email him at