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July 2018

Idea Files :: July 2018

Moose Mountain, Alaska's creative solutions for Arctic operations.

Written by Roger Evans | 0 comment


Moose Mountain in Fairbanks, Alaska, may be one of the most unique ski areas in the world. We installed our first traditional lift ahead of the 2017-18 season, a 300-foot-long rope tow that serves some gentler beginner terrain. Otherwise, we bus skiers and riders to the top, and groom with snowmobiles.

In short: to have a viable business, we have re-invented a lot of things that conventional ski areas do differently. We take advantage of our climate and snow quality. Our system keeps us out of bankruptcy—we’re well into the black each season—and gives good jobs to a handful of young folks.

Moose Mountain feasibility was my Master’s thesis in 1989. We built the road to the top to local borough standards so we could sell some lots along it and use the money to fund the trail clearing. We used a D9 Cat dozer to clear the trails—but only in April, when the ground was so frozen no blade could cut it. The trees sheared off cleanly. We mow every fall with a seven-foot brush-hog style mower on a tracked skid loader, so we can ski on thin cover. And we have a perfectly smooth organic surface.

jul18 new ideas 01With a dry and cold 60- to 70-inch average annual snowfall, mowing the trails every fall with this rig allows Moose Mountain to open and ski on a thin base of snow.

When we started driving skiers up in my old Suburban years ago, we were surprised at how many runs we could take in a short time. We soon began hiring buses to transport guests. That method became so popular in our cold weather that, after 25 years, we’re not looking to change.

It only takes a few minutes to load and unload a full bus, and it’s a 10-minute ride to the top of our mile-plus slope with 1,300 vertical feet. Transit time is comparable to a fixed-grip lift running at 450 fpm. Skiers emerge warm and rested, which makes skiing at 0°F quite comfortable. We give a $5 discount—our adult ticket is just $39—if it’s below zero when you buy your pass.

jul18 new ideas 02Simple solutions are best: Busing guests to the top provides warm and swift transport, for a lot less than a recent quote—$2.8 million—for a fixed-grip quad.

Aside from our low-cost, heated lift system and affordable tickets, Moose Mountain is rare in that we face south and west, an aspect that would be unfeasible in much of the Lower 48. We get wiped out within a couple weeks of the spring Equinox due to our low average snowfall (60 to 70 inches) and shallow base. However, from November until then, we ski in sunshine—even on the winter solstice. That’s a big mental health benefit here so close to the Arctic Circle, where the sun barely clears the horizon at Christmastime.

With a shallow base, we can’t use a conventional groomer without turning over the packed snow and exposing grass and organics. Our snow is so dry, we groom with snowmobiles pulling 8-, 10-, and 12-foot-wide blades that we designed in the first few years. We can groom about a half dozen of our favorite runs in a few hours. Though it isn’t perfect fresh corduroy, it is easily smooth enough to satisfy our customers. It can be a cold job, though.

jul18 new ideas 03Thin cover isn’t easily groomed with a big snow cat, so the ski area custom-built these blades to groom the trails, towing them behind snowmobiles.

In all, our innovations allow us to provide great recreation to thousands of locals, and even to devoted shredders who drive 350 miles through the Alaska Range in the dead of winter from Anchorage before Alyeska opens.

­— Roger Evans, Moose Mountain Ski Area