The City & Borough of Juneau Assembly gave Eaglecrest’s Board of Directors and staff their blessing to pursue the idea of developing commercial summer operations. Eaglecrest is in the preliminary stages and is advancing the idea in an effort to ensure Eaglecrest’s long-term operation, maintenance, and financial sustainability.
Ski areas throughout the industry, small and large, have increasingly turned to summer revenue streams in order to thrive year-round and mitigate the financial impact of challenging winters. In the mid-1980s, Eaglecrest initiated steps to increase summer visitation with limited success. Since then, the landscapes of Eaglecrest Ski Area and Juneau’s summer tourism have changed dramatically.
There are two development scenarios moving forward. The first is the status quo attempt to operate and maintain the ski area in the historical manner. The second is to pivot towards a model that leverages revenue streams from Juneau’s summer tourist visitation.
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Before analyzing summer operations, it’s important to plainly address Eaglecrest’s status quo. Eaglecrest operates on a 70% cost recovery model with annual expenses exceeding winter revenues. The budget is balanced through an annual CBJ Genereal Fund Obligation, often referred to as the city subsidy. We are grateful for the support so we can continue offering world-class skiing, snowboarding, and youth programming to the residents of Southeast Alaska.
Juneau is in the midst of a five-year winter climate trend characterized by low snowfall and erratic temperature swings. Eaglecrest can mitigate challenging weather conditions through snowmaking and still deliver a reliable winter product. Yet, ski area operating costs are on the rise nationwide, and doing business in Alaska adds another layer of expense.
Furthermore, State and CBJ budgets are being stressed, and Ptarmigan & Hooter Chairlifts are approaching the end of their service lifecycle. It is Eaglecrest’s fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Juneau to consider all options to become more financially independent.
Building on Eaglecrest’s 2012 Master Plan, recent economic studies, and ski industry trends, Eaglecrest has developed an ambitious proof of concept for a well-rounded suite of summer recreational offerings. This includes a new passenger gondola to effectively replace Ptarmigan, as well as a Hooter replacement to accommodate lift-served mountain biking. Additional activities would include a mountain coaster, ropes course, adventure maze, hiking and biking trail improvements, and other activities for locals and visitors of all ages and interests.
The visitor industry is one of Alaska’s few growing economic sectors, and it’s especially evident right here in Juneau. The cruise ships are visiting more frequently, and they’re carrying more passengers. The regional economic group Southeast Conference estimates a 17% increase from 2018 (1,165,000 visitors) to 2019 (1,361,000 visitors), and the growth is projected to continue with both cruise ships and independent travelers.
After preliminary consultations with tourism and ski industry representatives, it is clear that Eaglecrest is in an enviable position to capitalize on summer operations. Conservative estimates suggest that Eaglecrest could become financially independent from the city with profits reinvested to create even more affordable year-round recreation opportunities for the residents of Southeast Alaska.
As the community looks to balance the impacts of tourism’s rapid growth, developing summer operations at Eaglecrest is a solution for Juneau to grow responsibly, alleviate summer capacity concerns, and secure the ski area’s future. Furthermore, the economic benefits of making Eaglecrest a year-round recreation destination would help our community flourish.