Arctic Valley's long, tortured history of teetering on the brink of closure inched closer to the edge this week.
Volunteers with the Anchorage Ski Club who run the 320-acre ski area within Chugach State Park issued an appeal for money and members while calling an emergency meeting tonight at Kincaid Chalet. One option under consideration is to shutter the 72-year-old area for at least a year.
"We're not increasing the number of skiers -- it's the same year to year to year," said Jennifer Gordon, a volunteer and former board member of Anchorage Ski Club. "There's a core group of skiers up there, and it's not enough; it doesn't pay the core bills."
The ski club has 435 voting members, she said, 135 are lifetime members.
Despite a variety of efforts to boost the area, an average of 80 skiers a day have visited Arctic Valley over the past decade, Gordon said. Even that small number is more than 10 years ago, she added.
"What we really need is 200 skiers a day," Gordon said.
The shortage of skiers, club members and volunteers has the ski club considering three options:
• Shutter Arctic Valley this winter but open it next summer to hikers and berry pickers.
• Close this winter and next summer while stockpiling resources for planning and development.
• Sell more memberships and operate normally.
Any option has challenges. While significantly cheaper than Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Arctic Valley is only open weekends and holidays. Its wind-battered slopes aren't typically groomed and the twisty 6-mile drive up Arctic Valley Road to the resort can be challenging if conditions turn icy.
But get there early Saturday morning after a snowy week, and you may find yourself cutting turns through powder without the hint of a lift line.
"I've been skiing at Arctic Valley every year since I came to Alaska in 1988," said Harry Brod, an avid 50-year-old skier. "I think it's a great place, and I've skied all over the West.
"There's fewer people, and you can be on untracked powder all day long. They don't groom very much of the mountain, and that's fun."
Conditions like that make the area popular with telemarkers, and Arctic Valley supporters wonder why more skiers don't try it.
"We're baffled," Gordon said. "Some people I've talked to say they didn't know it was open. Or they're just used to going to Girdwood..
"We're above the clouds. It can be bright and sunny up there on days folks in Anchorage look out their window and say, 'Uggh, the weather' while 40 skiers are having a wonderful day up here."
The club collects about $20,000 a year in parking fees, but that money and income from lodge rentals have fallen over the past year.
As a result, the cost of ski club membership has been sharply increased from $50 to $250.
"Basically," Gordon said, "people have to give more if they want to ski there. The organization needs new blood -- new people with new ideas to take the reins."
Brod said the 500 percent hike would be OK with him if daily fees were eliminated or sharply reduced.
"If that basically gets you in there, $250 is not particularly onerous," he said. "What's that, just a few times at Alyeska."
An adult lift ticket for a full day of skiing at Alyeska is $60.
Arctic Valley sounded similar themes a year ago when former Portland attorney Lynne Lloyd was named general manager and former Crested Butte lift supervisor Cameron Bain took over as mountain manager, both brimming with ideas of how to turn the area around.
Both have been let go because of the financial struggles. Those struggles mount in the coming month when the area's $25,000 insurance bill comes due. Once snow flies, volunteers will be needed to run the area.
"The same group of 30 people have been carrying the area for 30 years now," said Gordon, who's one of them. "We're asking community to invest in the area. We all need to work a little harder to make it happen.
"If we only have 30 people at Wednesday's meeting, it's not going to open."
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329.