JUNEAU, Alaska — The lifts may still sit idle and the snow cats only recently woken in their sheds, but it's preseason time.
Thanks to a group of dedicated individuals and a solid set of die-hard skiers, opportunities abound on local ski trails and slopes.
Since our first decent dump of snow on top of Eaglecrest Ski Area in mid-October, snowboarders and skiers could be seen making their way up the mountain to catch a few quick turns. Thanks to these ambitious individuals there's now a boot packed trail to follow, as well as a skin track. There's also a decent amount of ski tracks to follow downhill, which helps users avoid some of the hazards — stumps, rocks and brush — that come standard with early season riding.
And apparently the snow is "good." One recent report came from local snowboarder Cherith Whiteman, 32.
"There was about two feet of snow on the top of the mountain," Whiteman said. "It was a pretty nice ride down. Of course there's the occasional stump or rock, and it gets a little brushy toward the bottom, but it was still good."
Others echo a similar story.
On the Nordic skiing side, the tracks are firming up and the skate lanes are open, said Juneau Nordic Ski Club Volunteer Jack Kreinheder. He's been volunteering with the JNSC to do pre- and postseason grooming up at Eaglecrest for the past few years.
He set the first classic tracks on the Lower Loop trails at the city-owned ski area earlier this month.
"(Coverage on) the gravel trail is great," Kreinheder said. "Since they hardened the trail surface with gravel, that area only needs a few inches of snow. There were one or two spots where gravel was showing, but those areas have been shoveled. The meadow has a few twigs showing through. The only spot that could really use some additional snow is the lower portion of the Fish Creek loop. There's some blueberries and a few stumps still uncovered. But for only eight inches of snow, it's great skiing."
Kreinheder, who is also the president of Trail Mix Inc., said he plans to set a classic track on those trails every few days until the ski area opens and the larger groomers take over. Currently, the trails are not being groomed for skate skiing.
The trails at the Mendenhall Lake Campground are fully functional, however. There, volunteers with the JNSC have resumed their daily grooming duties and have both a skate and classic track set. User reports from that area indicate "conditions are very good."
Don Thomas, a volunteer with the JNSC, said they began grooming the surface of the frozen Mendenhall Lake on Wednesday. He said the snow is not yet deep enough for a classic track, but the skating is good.
"Your poles kind of slip a little bit, but it's good," he said.
Users will want to stay away from the icebergs, however.
"They shift and roll, and there's often open water nearby," Thomas said. "They're kind of like a magnet for people, but users should stay away."
The face of the glacier and areas where open water runs into the lake are also places to avoid.
Thomas said the JNSC also plans to groom adjacent trails, such as those in Dredge Lakes, as soon as snow accumulation is sufficient.
"Once in a while, we'll also do Montana Creek Road," he said.
The club often shares this path with snow machine riders and other users, but "if we can get one side set for skiing, it works out pretty good."
"It's a fine ski because the creek is right alongside you," Thomas said.
At Eagle Beach State Recreation Area, the trails have also been prepped for winter grooming. Crews could be seen clearing debris in early October. Last year, the area acquired a new snow machine and officials say they plan to put it to good use again this season.
Mike Eberhardt, Southeast Area State Parks Superintendent, said they will begin grooming as soon as there is enough snow to do so. He said users can call the Eagle Beach phone at 586-2506 to check the grooming schedule.
Even the wide-open muskeg of Spaulding Meadows is ski-ready, Betsy Fischer said.
The local ski enthusiast said she skied the area a few weeks ago and reported the conditions are "quite good." Access to the meadows can be done via the Spaulding Meadows trail, and users can branch off onto the John Muir trail, she said. Access is also available by hiking up the Lake Creek trail, which is a multi-use trail shared with snow machines.
"One thing I always tell people heading into Spaulding Meadows is to bring a map and compass," Fischer said. "It's so easy to get lost up there if the weather moves in."
So while it's still officially the "preseason" skiing-wise here in Juneau, opportunities abound.