The Jackson Town Council members voted last week to join the chorus of opposition to expansion onto Snow King Mountain Resort’s south side, agreeing to pen a letter to the U.S. Forest Service expressing their desire to not expand the Town Hill’s footprint.
Last month, the Bridger-Teton National Forest approved a plan, pending a review period, that would allow Snow King to expand to the east and the west by 67 and 88 acres, respectively. Additionally, the ski resort was granted permission to expand onto the back side of the mountain, with the installation of a new ski lift in the previously undeveloped Leeks Canyon and new south-facing, sun-bathed slopes.
It is the latter part that has drawn the consternation of conservation groups, particularly given that the back side of Snow King provides important winter habitat for mule deer and elk, along with the most reproductively successful known goshawk pair in Jackson Hole.
Skye Schell, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance — one of several organizations and individuals to speak out against Snow King expansion throughout the process, though there were about as many who spoke in favor of it — is one of those disappointed in the Forest Service’s decision. He said important voices haven’t been heard.
“I think the Forest Service has really messed up this whole process, basically from start to finish,” Schell said. “They’ve ignored a ton of voices in the community and went far enough, and ignored the Town Council enough, that now the town has to ask them to reconsider.”
As Jackson Town Councilor Jim Stanford noted at the Nov. 16 council meeting, when he requested that the council write an objection letter on behalf of the town, one of the things the Town of Jackson repeatedly asked for throughout the process was a range of alternatives to a new road to Snow King’s summit. Those requests were ignored, Stanford said, “and Snow King’s proposing to put a road across the face of the mountain.”
So, while others in the community have their own objections to the Forest Service’s approvals, Stanford asked that the council focus its letter on previously submitted objections.
“I would ask that we approve the drafting and sending to the Forest Service of an objection letter, as called for in their process, and we keep it pretty simple here,” Stanford said. “There are a lot of other folks in the community who have a range of concerns that they’re going to be objecting about, but I think we just keep it to the position that the town has advocated for consistently.
“It was a very modest ask,” he said, “and unfortunately we didn’t get it. And the law requires that we do have a reasonable range of alternatives.”
Schell, meanwhile, acknowledged that the council — after months of deliberations and discussions about Snow King requests — recently granted the Town Hill all of its requests, including a gondola to be based in town-owned Phil Baux Park and a series of summit-to-base zip lines, among other requests. However, he said those approvals differ from what the council currently opposes, because they remain within the existing footprint of Snow King, whereas the Forest Service approvals significantly expand Snow King’s ability to grow that footprint.
“I think what that says is the town wanted to work with the developers and give them everything that they could within the existing footprint, but the town also agrees that going outside that footprint is unnecessary and a step too far, or at least that our Forest Service should analyze those options before declaring that there’s only one way to do this,” Schell said.
Schell, who recognized the value some new features will bring to Snow King, like the gondola and zip lines, even if some in town are opposed to them, added, “I think it’s an incredibly powerful statement for the town to say, ‘Hey, we will give you everything you want within the footprint’ and then for the town to object to what the Forest Service is giving them.”
The Forest Service did initially consider keeping Snow King to its current footprint, but that notion was scrapped as it didn’t jibe with the “purpose and need” of Snow King’s proposal, according to the Forest Service’s final Environmental Impact Statement.
Snow King Vice President and General Manager Ryan Stanley was unable to be reached by press time Sunday, but he has previously expressed his satisfaction with the Forest Service’s decision to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, saying it was “really positive and exciting” for the Town Hill and Jackson residents.