Hundreds of Alaskan skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes this Thanksgiving weekend to take advantage of fresh powder -- but in tough times, will ski resorts face an uphill battle this year?
The economic downturn hit the industry hard, as people couldn't afford lift tickets and all the gear that goes along with it. But here in Alaska, local ski areas say this year's season is off to a good start.
Sunday was a cool crisp day -- perfect for hitting the powder.
"I haven't been skiing in three years; I love falling down," said skier A.J. Lewis.
"The last four days have been awesome -- Anchorage responded to the snowfall by sending out legions of folks to come out here and ski, and we're lucky enough to be blessed with snow to accommodate all of them," said Alyeska Mountain's services manager, Brian Burnett.
The weather definitely helped out as well.
"The fact that we got all the snow that we got on Thanksgiving, that definitely so far has helped," said Hilltop Ski Area's general operations manager, Rick Cramer.
Alyeska opened Wednesday to above-average turnout, while Hilltop opened in early November -- weeks ahead of schedule.
"We were able to get open with that nice snowfall that Mother Nnature gave us," Cramer said.
The season is starting strong, but ski areas want to maintain that momentum. Hilltop has raised its prices for lift tickets and rentals by $2.
"Unfortunately, you know, it's a necessity: our food costs go up, we haven't raised our prices in a couple years," Cramer said.
A day pass for an adult at Hillside is about $30. Alyeska's prices stayed steady at $60, but this year the resort is focused on marketing discount packages in an effort to attract more customers.
"Alyeska is home-grown Alaska -- 90 percent of resort guests are from Alaska, and so it's absolutely critical that we create value for our Alaskan guests," Burnett said.
"I don't think it's that expensive," said skier Bob Thornley. "The lift-ticket prices at Alyeska are cheaper than at the big resorts in the Lower 48."
Getting uphill isn't the only cost to consider, as visitors' choice of gear to cruise down on can also put a dent in their wallets. But instead of skipping the fun, skiers and snowboards say it's about shopping smart.
"The equipment can be really expensive if you want the best stuff there is," Thornley said. "Most people don't need the best stuff there is."
"I picked up myself for pretty cheap, I got them used, so the season pass doesn't really affect me too much," said snowboarder Bentley Davis. "It's a big benefit because I come every weekend: cheaper for me in the long run."
The season is shaping up to be a profitable one for local slopes -- but if the snow disappears, so will the customers.
Alaska is currently in a La Nina pattern, which typically means slightly colder and wetter weather for the state.
Contact Jackie Bartz at email@example.com