Jackson Hole Mountain Resort received the green light to work on a series of new construction projects this summer, including at least one raised, 350-square-foot steel “viewing platform” atop Rendezvous Mountain.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest has received no public comment on the proposals and the window to weigh in is closed. The projects have been approved via a categorical exclusion under the National Environment Policy Act, with construction review forthcoming and most of the physical work set to start this summer.
The viewing platforms are one part of a series of infrastructure projects the resort is now set to complete. Others include trail grading and maintenance, a new hiking trail on top of Rendezvous Mountain, a new ski patrol station under the mountaintop Aerial Tram dock, a new garage for the tram-top snowcat, relocating an avalanche cannon, and building a new kids’ play area at Solitude Station, the midpoint on the Sweetwater Gondola where adults and older children assemble for ski lessons.
Of the projects, one platform will be the farthest from the resort’s current developed footprint but within its current Forest Service-permitted boundaries.
The proposed disturbance for the platforms is less than 0.1 acre, according to U.S. Forest Service documents.
The southernmost platform — one of three new platforms planned — is not set to be built this summer, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort director of planning and engineering Bill Schreiber said. It is set to be made of metal, raised about 10 feet from the ground, and located at the top of Rock Springs Bowl, but not above the popular backcountry ski run, Schreiber said. Instead, it’s set to be built over a cliff.
The other two platforms are slated for construction this summer. The middle one is set to be another raised, 350-foot steel surface like the one proposed in Rock Springs.
The northernmost platform is planned to be more in line with surrounding topography.
Schreiber and resort spokeswoman Anna Cole said the platforms are intended to be a way to guide people through the experience at the top of the Aerial Tram, which is under construction for the summer.
When people disembark the tram in the summer, there are two ways to walk: one is on a pathway toward Cody Bowl. The other is on the road that snakes toward the bottom of the mountain.
“People will start walking down the road, and they don’t really have a destination. They just keep walking and walking, and then all the sudden they go farther than they should,” Schreiber said. “So it’s an epic to get back to the top of the tram.”
The platforms are intended to curb that instinct, giving people a couple of destinations with set distances to travel to when they reach the top of Rendezvous Peak in the summertime.
Schreiber and Cole said they’ll be adorned with displays, aimed at giving people views of Cody Bowl and intended to keep “little hikes” from turning into unintended “big hikes.”
Schreiber said he could not share designs for the platforms with the News&Guide “at this time.”
The resort’s plans were made public in early April in the forest’s April Schedule of Proposed Actions, a document known in acronym-laden government speak as the SOPA. That’s essentially a list of projects that the forest is expected to consider approving over a few months.
The News&Guide first saw the document, and plans for the viewing platforms, when looking at public comments online in early June for the resort’s proposal to expand guided backcountry skiing days south of its winter-time boundaries.
By then the window to comment had already closed. The Bridger-Teton approved the project under a categorical exclusion, the National Environmental Policy Act’s lowest level of review.
No public comment was received on the proposal, and Mary Moore, district ranger for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, argued the proposals had been appropriately publicized on the forest’s website.
Moore also said receiving little to no public comment on Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s proposals under the National Environmental Policy Act wasn’t out of the ordinary.
“The majority of the time, there is little to no comment on infrastructure associated with” Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Moore said.
That’s in contrast to Snow King Resort, which is adjacent to town and proposed significant changes like a permit boundary expansion and new lifts in the past few years. Those projects were approved this spring after years of controversy, and construction began on the project earlier this summer.
The changes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort are smaller in scope and do not include a proposed expansion of the resort’s permitted boundaries.
The farthest south viewing platform is within, but on the edge of, those boundaries.
“Snow King was kind of in a different category,” Moore said. “They did move forward with some very significant projects that had a different level of disturbance. And so it required a different level of analysis.”
Moore said the projects proposed by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort did not meet the benchmark for elevating the proposals to a higher level of review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
That would be an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement.
The district ranger said she had not yet seen a design for the proposed platforms but said that forest officials should in the forthcoming construction review process.
“The NEPA analysis analyzes the disturbance footprint,” Moore said. “The construction kind of review process is where they’ll submit us some formal plans. And that’s where we use it to do a deeper dive into exactly what it’s going to look like.”
Asked whether the platforms would be viewed from the valley floor, Schreiber said no.
“If you had a telescope that was strong enough, you could probably see the one in Rock Springs,” he said. “From any road, you’d never see it.”