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Jackson Hole, WY News

Snow King’s transformation is coming along

New backside lift and summit gondola will spin this winter, general manager says.

Snow King Construction

Up-valley views and the Teton Range now dominate the northern horizon on Snow King Mountain’s summit ridge where mature conifers once screened the views.

A zip line feeds downhill at a daunting angle off that same summit. Nearby, the offload terminal of an all-new gondola is going in. Sagebrush that once studded the hillsides leading into the backside bowl in Leeks Canyon is noticeably lacking, and new water lines feeding new snowmaking guns are in the ground. A flatter, wider road carves a new route up through the forest directly over the town of Jackson.

These are some of the changes that make up the long-awaited and debated transformation of Snow King Mountain Resort.

“We’re super excited to share everything with the public,” Snow King General Manager Ryan Stanley said. “Every time I go up on the hill, I run into someone hiking or biking and the first thing they ask me is, ‘Is it going to be done?’ And the next thing they say is, ‘This is the first year I’ve ever bought a Snow King pass.’ ”

Snow King construction

A backhoe drives down the south side of Snow King Mountain Resort where a new chairlift is set to be installed Thursday morning.

Construction that’s been noticeable and audible from the streets of Jackson is on schedule, Stanley said.

“We’re planning to have the gondola and the lift open for the winter,” he said, “and everything is currently on track for that.”

The largest overhaul in the 83-year-long history of Wyoming’s oldest ski area has been several years in the making. Improvements and additions approved by the Bridger-Teton National Forest include a 155-acre addition to Snow King’s permit area plus new infrastructure that’s now being installed in the south-facing, sun-exposed and previously undeveloped Leeks Canyon. There’s also a new summit road, ski runs, beginner zone, a summit restaurant, plus more that’s in the works.

Not everything will be completed in time for the winter of 2021-22, and work on some parts of the project has not yet commenced. But approximately $20 million worth of construction is underway, Stanley said, including most of the new skiing terrain and infrastructure.

Snow King construction

Christian Santelices, developer and operations director of the Treetop Adventure at Snow King, oversees the clearing of tree stumps and debris from the recently widened area of the hill Thursday morning. In the past month, large steps have been made to complete the multiple ongoing projects in time for the winter season.

Towers that will support the new backside lift and gondola went into the ground last weekend. Tentatively, cables will be added and spliced on Oct. 14. Next, the gondola’s cars and the lift’s chairs will be affixed to the lines.

“The road and the runs will all be open,” Stanley said. “Snowmaking on the backside of the mountain should all be done, and the beginner area at the top of the mountain with snowmaking should be done.”

A centerpiece of the plans that won’t open in time for winter 2021-22 is the new summit building. That facility will be split up between a restaurant, maintenance facility and ski patrol and ski school quarters. It’ll have a “really large” north-facing deck, plus another rooftop deck. But for the time being, it’s a fenced-off hole in the ground.

Snow King construction

Crews continue work on the south side of Snow King Mountain Resort where a new chairlift is set to be installed. The area, previously covered in sagebrush, is being upgraded to offer skiing on the sunnier back side of Town Hill.

“It’s definitely not going to be done for another year,” Stanley said.

Snow King’s construction, which started in April, was not without its hiccups. Large mature conifer trees that were cleared for roads, runs and facilities were originally going to be removed from the 1,571-foot mountain via a system of pulleys and winches and excavators.

“The amount of time it was taking was clearly prohibitive to get the job done,” Stanley said.

Snow King Construction

A helicopter lowers parts of a gondola tower so the construction crew can assemble it Saturday morning on Snow King Mountain.

The Bridger-Teton, he said, signed off on Plan B: Removing the trees one at a time via helicopter.

“They were quite excited that we would be removing the trees with the helicopter to get them off the mountain,” Stanley said.

One part of the new and improved Snow King that’s not yet decided is what all the new runs, lifts and features are going to be named. That’s being left to a crowdsourcing effort. There will be a naming contest, Stanley said, and winners will be awarded season passes.

Snow King is set to open for the season on Dec. 4. It’s likely that just the base-area magic carpet, Rafferty Lift and Cougar Lift will be spinning on opening day, with the summit gondola plus the backside lift firing up later in the winter.

“I would hope that we have that open by Christmas,” Stanley said.

Although many residents lament losing the smaller, sleepier small town ski resort of old, not everyone is of that mind. Investor and Snow King neighbor John Tozzi thinks the work underway will benefit local residents more than visitors.

“There were dangerous, archaic chairlifts, with basically nothing to do in the summer,” Tozzi said. “All of that is being changed. And considering you can walk to it from town, the town of Jackson will be the ultimate beneficiary of everything that’s being done.”

Snow King construction

Atop Snow King Mountain Resort, the construction of the newly added zipline is underway Thursday morning as a crew member zips down to assess the path and check that it is clear of obstacles. It’s one of many additions being made to Snow King after an extensive public comment process.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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