Following a lively Jackson Town Council meeting in which council members heard more than an hour of public comment, Snow King Mountain Resort officials are confident that their gondola and zip line projects will be successful.
Council members, meanwhile, acknowledged that they have a lot to consider regarding all aspects of the projects — from initial approval to hours of operation — and tabled a vote until their next regular meeting, July 20, or a specially called meeting.
Public comment at Monday’s meeting varied, with impassioned pleas from Jackson residents who spoke both in favor of and against some or all aspects of Snow King’s requests for a conditional use permit.
Snow King is seeking approval for a gondola and a lease for it to be based in Phil Baux Park, a series of summit-to-base zip lines and a new snowmaking pump house. If the gondola is approved and placed where currently proposed, the Cougar Lift on Snow King would be moved uphill to accommodate it, though it would remain in the same configuration.
“The community loves Snow King, and it brings out a lot of passion,” said Jeff Golightly, Snow King board member and former CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. He spoke to the News&Guide in an interview Tuesday. Snow King “brings out an extraordinary amount of passion on [these issues]. And it also brings out an incredibly varied response to the same thing.”
Golightly acknowledged that some aspects of the proposal, specifically the zip lines and basing a gondola in Phil Baux Park, are controversial for some in the community. But, he said, “we’re humbled that so many people care so much about the mountain.”
During the town meeting, which was both in person and virtual, public comment opened with a town staffer reading to the council a statement from Patty and Frank Ewing — a preview of what others also opposing the zip line project would later say. The Ewings said wildlife protection is an ever-challenging goal and they think a zip line on Snow King would further threaten wildlife on the mountain while also creating a noise nuisance.
“The decisions on both private land and public land are far-reaching, totally interconnected and forever,” the Ewings wrote in their statement. “The proposed zip line will have major noise impacts on the neighborhoods, which include yelling and screaming combined with mechanical sounds of operation. Noise abatement in conjunction with the Cowboy Coaster has not been successful. Yelling and screaming does not have a high degree of self-containment as current [formalized agreements] require.”
Snow King Vice President Ryan Stanley said at the council’s June 15 meeting that Snow King would gladly take steps to mitigate any noise issues. Among those measures would be planting more trees to block and absorb sound on the Snow King boundary and installing signs instructing people how to behave and respect neighbors.
Golightly reiterated those things Tuesday, though he did acknowledge that an activity with the excitement level of a zip line can elicit the occasional squeal from a thrill seeker.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to make it as quiet as possible,” he said. “We don’t disagree that it’s an exhilaration-type event. Having said that, we are proposing it with lines and a catchment braking system that are the quietest systems that are out there, from a mechanical standpoint.”
Other commenters spoke in support of the gondola but had varying opinions about hours of operation. Multiple people spoke in favor of running the gondola as late as 1 a.m., particularly if Snow King is successful in having an observatory built atop the mountain for night-time stargazing, while others asked that the hours be limited, closing the gondola at 6 or 9 p.m.
Golightly said it’s important for people to understand that Snow King would operate the gondola under limited hours until such an observatory, as well as a planned restaurant at the summit, was actually constructed. He said it would be foolish for anyone to invest such a significant sum of money without a guarantee prior to breaking ground.
“Wyoming Stargazing is wanting to build an observatory on the summit that would be an incredible asset for this community, for education for locals and tourists alike,” Golightly said. “The idea of not knowing what your hours of operation can be — with just a promise of, ‘Hey, build it and then come back and ask [for extended hours]’ — that really doesn’t work. It’s going to cost millions of dollars to build the type of observatory that we’re looking at, and you just don’t do that unless you know that it’s going to be able to be used.
“We’re not asking for the hours of operation today to reflect post-buildout of the observatory and restaurant. What we’re saying today is much-reduced hours, but when those are built we can have those extended hours.”
While the Ewings were insistent in their comment that the late hours of operation for a gondola not be granted, another town staffer read a comment from six locals in favor of allowing late-night hours: Linda Wasserman, Greg Wright, Heather Hanson, Steve Singer, Howie Singer and Karen Smith.
They asked that Snow King be allowed to run the gondola until 1 a.m. from June through September and until 11 p.m. the rest of the year “so people can have access to the observatory on the summit when the sky is dark.”
Rachel Warren, who also asked the council to grant the late hours to a Snow King gondola, added that “our little town really needs this. The education possibilities are limitless.”
The council heard comment for about an hour and 10 minutes before Mayor Pete Muldoon ended that part of the meeting and asked for a motion to continue the issues to the next meeting when the clock hit 9:30 p.m. Muldoon had initially set the deadline for council members to hear comment and discuss the issue at 9 p.m., but the multitude of people wanting to weigh in on the matter forced them to run long.
Among other comments were concerns about granting public land for the gondola’s base. Some people insistd that the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club continue to be able to use the Cougar Lift for its training.
Golightly addressed both of those points, saying the various markets, concerts and other events held in the park will not be impacted because the planned gondola base was moved nearer to the edge of the park after Snow King heard fears the gondola would bisect the park.
And he said the Cougar Lift would merely be moved up two towers but would remain in its exact alignment.
At the end of the day Golightly and his Snow King associates expressed confidence that the projects will be successful and add to the enjoyment of the mountain.
“We’re looking forward to building the gondola,” he said. “We’re looking forward to moving Snow King forward and to ensure that it’s around for future generations.
“That’s what we’re probably most excited about. … [We] appreciate our community and the amount of passion and love everybody has for Snow King, even if not everybody has complete agreement on how it should be operated.”