No one earns less than minimum wage at Eaglecrest Ski Area anymore

Snowboarders and skiiers line up for the lift.
Skiers and snowboarders line up for chair lift rides at Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau on Jan. 17, 2022. A pay raise took effect for all Eaglecrest employees that day, raising some of the lowest paid workers above Alaska’s minimum wage. (Mikko Wilson)

As of Monday, all employees at Juneau’s city-owned ski area got a pay bump, and no one is earning less than Alaska’s minimum wage anymore.

Eaglecrest Ski Area officials adopted a slate of changes to their pay scale after an exceptionally strong opening to the ski season — and after getting a lot of guff from the public.

For years, Eaglecrest officials and the local elected officials who appoint them have publicly lamented how poorly paid some ski area workers are. Before Monday, entry-level workers could be paid as little as $8.50 an hour.

After a KTOO story about the ski area’s labor and pay issues in December, harsh emails lit up the inboxes of Eaglecrest’s leadership and the Juneau Assembly. Some long-time patrons were outraged and said they regretted their support for the ski area.

Eaglecrest Board Chair Mike Satre spoke to the Juneau Assembly Finance Committee about the pay issue on Jan. 5. He said there was a misunderstanding on his end about who had the authority to make changes.

“I think there’s been confusion on the board — and a lot of that lies squarely in my lap — about how we could specifically address pay plan adjustments,” Satre said. “We really believed, I believed, that it had to be solely be done through the budgeting process, and truly, you know, a collaborative effort, you know, with the manager’s office, finance team and the Assembly.”

While the Assembly has to approve Eaglecrest’s overall budget, the city’s Finance Director Jeff Rogers explained that the Eaglecrest board has the sole authority to set pay and compensation for the ski area’s employees. Assembly Finance Committee Chair Carole Triem said Rogers intended to bring the issue to her committee in February, but moved it up after KTOO’s story.

The day after the committee met, Satre’s board unanimously approved a pay bump for all employees that took effect with the new pay period on Monday. The raises vary depending on the position and an employee’s experience level, but the city’s Human Resources Director Dallas Hargrave estimates it works out to roughly 7.5% overall, or about $100,000 extra per year.

One entry-level position in the pay schedule still appears to begin below Alaska minimum wage, but another policy the board adopted says everyone will earn at least the state minimum wage. It’s $10.34 an hour right now and automatically increases with inflation.

After six years on the Eaglecrest board, member Stephanie Hoag said she’s thrilled the pay increases finally went through.

“It’s just way overdue, I am so glad,” she said.

Eaglecrest General Manager Dave Scanlan said it would take about a 22% pay increase overall to be competitive with other ski areas. For future ski seasons, he said Eaglecrest still intends to ask the Assembly for more financial support to help reach that target.

“This isn’t the end game for us,” he said. “This is really just a Band-Aid to address the immediate issue. And we wouldn’t be likely to be able to have this conversation, if it wasn’t for the success that we’re having at the ski area, which is only made possible by all the hard work from all my staff.”

The ski area’s finances tend to hinge on the weather and can be very volatile. Still, Scanlan said this partial step is financially sustainable. That’s based in part on the ski area’s finances last season and the strong opening this season.

“Just amazing — last year was a record revenue year, and here we go, we’re just cruising right along, far exceeding last year,” Scanlan said.

Through early January, the ski area’s total revenue was more than $1.5 million. That’s more than double the $730,000 it was up to this point in the season two years ago.

The pay increases are expected to help attract and retain staff. But the existing labor shortage means a lot of Eaglecrest employees continue to help in other roles.

“Everybody has pulled together as we’ve been really short on staff especially in lift operations,” Scanlan said. “We’ve had our vehicle mechanic out running chair lifts, and our snow removal guys running chairlifts. Everybody has just chipped in.”

Scanlan said he’s been filling in on some chair lift shifts, too.

“Done a top shack day or two myself, just to make sure we are giving people happy powder days without big lift lines,” he said.

Satre and other board members said expanding summer activities on the mountain is the key to making the ski area financially self-sustaining. As it stands, about $3 out of every $10 it takes to run Eaglecrest comes from Juneau taxpayers.

One piece of that plan is to install a new gondola system on the mountain, estimated to cost $6.5 million. The Eaglecrest board directed Scanlan to work with the Assembly on finding ways to pay for the project. It could come through the state’s capital budget, or local project packages voters approve and pay for with sales tax revenue.

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Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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