With the end of the first winter season for the new Hatcher Pass ski area and lift just weeks away, the hill’s general manager said they’re already deep into plans for improvement and construction over the summer, and even plotting next winter’s offerings.
Skeetawk, located about 10 miles up Palmer-Fishhook Road into Hatcher Pass, first opened for the 2020 to 2021 season after its lift delivery and construction was delayed, canceling its 2019 to 2020 season. Operated by the community-based nonprofit Hatcher Pass Xperience and with a single triple chair lift and multiple groomed runs, the area has welcomed hundreds of users, and is now offering some lessons.
As of March 29, officials plan to end the season April 18. With a steady late season snow continuing to create fantastic ski conditions, Scott Patridge, the general manager, said they may push closing one week later. But because the area is so new, organizers aren’t sure how quickly the spring sun creates poor grooming and skiing conditions in April. Like so many things with any new project, he said, they are still learning.
Meanwhile, he said, volunteers and staff are working on a few grants and fundraising to secure the cash to do some summer improvements. Among those plans are: enclosing the bottom of the warming yurt to create a ski and snowboard rental area; clearing alders and trail smoothing to allow the snow cat groomer to run longer each season; and constructing a few bike trails that can be used during the summer.
Patridge said once the lift closes for the season and the snow melts, they are eager to start that work.
But he also knows the big “what’s next?” question on everyone’s mind, and the answer comes down to big funding.
“Everyone wants to know when the next lift will go in,” he said. “We’re generally thinking five years, $5 million for each stage. It took 40 years to get this lift in, I hope it doesn’t take 40 years for the next. But it is quite an endeavour getting a lift up there and keeping it running.”
Longterm, the construction plans include a series of three lifts and at least 15 groomed runs and a daylodge with interior bathrooms and other amenities. But it takes cash raised through grants, fundraising and income to build that stuff. So for now Patridge said they are focusing on the improvements, like the rental area, that can draw more users to the mountain each season, pay the bills and build cash in the bank for those big future projects.
That’s because keeping the ski area running during open lift days isn’t cheap, he said. And while the cash they are currently making is enough to keep the proverbial lights on, it’s not going to be enough to install a new lift.
“We love it when it snows but man it costs a lot of money to plow a lot of snow,” he said “All in all [the income] is sustaining the operations.”
Partridge said he’s particularly excited about establishing education programs, such as a ski school. Before coming to Skeetawk, he ran the ski school at Alyeska, and the board knew when they hired him that education is his passion.
“I’m all about getting people on skis and getting them learning,” he said.
Skiers and snowboarders can get lift tickets through the end of the season at the warming yurt at Sketawk. Day passes are $39 for adults or $32 for military or first responders; $32 for students ages 13 to 18 or with a college ID; $20 for youth ages six to 12; free for kids five and under or adults over 70. Masks are required in the lift line.
Plans for a possible spring fundraiser or slush cup style event at the ski area and next fall’s annual Blueberry Ball fundraiser are still under consideration, he said.