Snow King and town officials have finally settled on an update to the resort’s master plan, ending more than a year and a half of negotiation and public review of the controversial document.
The process has seen ups and downs galore, sometimes seeming at risk of collapse. But cool heads prevailed Monday, when town councilors agreed on a plan to renovate the mountain and — theoretically — keep a struggling Snow King financially stable.
“I do think that this is going to be a win for the community as a whole,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said. “I know that we could continue to work on this for months and months and months … but I think we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, and I think we’re at a good spot.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted,” he added.
The most notable concession was a zipline at the eastern side of the mountain, an addition that many Jacksonites fiercely opposed. But weighed against the benefits of a thriving resort, most elected officials agreed, it was a fair trade.
At the meeting Monday, the council’s third on the subject, the last outstanding question was how to ensure Snow King holds up its end of the bargain.
The new plan contains a long list of expectations — from running the lifts 49 hours a week to maintaining infrastructure and managing parking and transportation around the resort — and the council wanted assurance the resort would follow through on them.
Part of the solution the town and Snow King devised is a 1% fee on all commercial activity, except condominium sales, within the resort district. With that fee, projected to generate $250,000 to $500,000 a year, the Snow King Resort Master Association (or SKRMA, an HOA-like group of property owners in the resort district) will fund improvements and repairs, among other things.
SKRMA will also maintain a reserve of $500,000, raised through the fee, to exclusively fund ski operations if the resort fails to meet its 49-hour requirement for running the lifts.
However, if the resort were to fall out of compliance with the master plan, the town’s only current recourse would be to suspend building permits for condominiums and other undeveloped projects.
That has led some to fear that once Snow King has developed all the profitable parts of the resort, it could stop providing the required community benefits without repercussions. If it needs no more permits, the thinking goes, the town has no leverage.
“It’s always going to be that elephant in the living room,” Councilor Jonathan Schechter said.
But others noted there are a few more mechanisms. The town could still suspend certain permits the resort will need to renew regularly — like those for the zipline, alpine slide and mountain coaster — and permits for major renovations and repairs.
“There is an ongoing relationship beyond just building the buildings,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said.
Snow King representative Jeff Golightly agreed. He noted the resort “will come back in front of this body, and if we’re not living up to the promises in here, there will be sticks.”
The town could also impose fines on the resort, charging some amount of money for each day of violation. Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno said Jackson’s maximum fine is $750 per day per violation.
Golightly said the resort would be open to discussing fines, but he added that he believes the stipulations in the new plan virtually guarantee compliance, saying the fee revenue will be “well in excess of the variable losses that we’ve had.”
“It is our desire to never have to go down that path,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to avoid that.”
As the resort develops the projects outlined in the master plan, it will be required to do it in a specific way, further ensuring benefits to the community. For example, the gondola must be built before the zipline, a key money-maker in the resort’s attempt to turn a profit.
“That’s not a compliance stick, that’s a compliance cannon,” Golightly said. “That gondola’s going to get built … because it locks up extraordinary value.”
He said the resort also plans to recruit consultants and look to models from similar ski resorts to see how they’ve kept their budgets in the black.
“We believe that we will be positioned in the best possible place that we can be,” he said, “to give the highest likelihood of success.”
The council will also allow Snow King to build dormitory-style housing to satisfy up to 25% of its employee housing requirements, a significant change from the current 0%.
Elected officials designed those requirements to house full-time, year-round employees, but Snow King argues that as a resort it has a uniquely and overwhelmingly seasonal workforce, and therefore deserves different requirements. Teton County is considering a similar change in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s employee housing requirements.
Now town officials just need to obtain the Snow King Resort Master Association’s formal position on the master plan. If SKRMA approves, the Town Council will consider the plan one last time at a meeting Feb. 3.
Monday’s decision marked the end of only one half of Snow King’s master plan update. Bridger-Teton National Forest officials are nearing the end of a separate review of projects that concern U.S. Forest Service land, including other ziplines, boundary expansion, a new road up the mountain and a restaurant at the summit.
Forest officials plan to release an environmental impact statement on the resort’s plans this month.
Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect that the council did not unanimously approve the Snow King master plan. Councilor Jim Stanford was the sole vote against approval.