On Monday, Snow King Mountain Resort submitted sweeping amendments to its master plan, including a request to land a gondola in Phil Baux Park, giving town and Bridger-Teton National Forest officials a long list of proposed developments to vet.
The plan offers potential updates to modernize the Town Hill and bring revenue to a resort that contends it has long struggled financially. The resort’s proposed renovations stretch to each boundary — east to west, base to summit and down the backside.
Based on stakeholder input and public feedback, the resort is asking to add a planetarium, a mountain sports complex and a zip line, among other things. Altogether the projects would cost about $26 million over the next few years, and resort General Manager Ryan Stanley said it wouldn’t cost the town a dime.
“We’re proposing to pay for all of this,” he said.
The developments would involve town land, however, including possibly landing a gondola in the town’s Phil Baux Park. Stanley said he expects this to be a sticking point in negotiations with the town, although most stakeholders favored the proposal.
One of the stakeholders, Geneva Chong, an ecologist and former town planning commissioner, said she and other stakeholders would only support landing a gondola on town property under airtight conditions that bind Snow King to whatever agreements the resort makes with the town.
What’s more, she suggested Snow King exchange a portion of the KM-6 lot adjacent to the park, which includes the mini golf course.
Chong said Phil Baux Park is extremely valuable to the community as a public space that also serves as a ballfield, concert venue and site for the People’s Market.
Although Snow King has proposed adding green space and building a ballfield or event venue on nearby land, Chong worries that future owners could disregard such agreements and limit future public access to green space if situated on private land without a binding agreement.
Brian Krill, executive director of the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club and another stakeholder, agreed it will be important to hold Snow King and future owners accountable. But he argued that should be dealt with once planning is underway.
“In order for that to get worked out,” he said, “we gotta move forward.”
According to a calendar Snow King created, town planning staff will be reviewing the master plan amendments, including the gondola, this month.
Krill said he believes the public should focus not only on the gondola itself, but on the larger attempt to maximize public benefit in the area that is now Phil Baux Park.
“It’s not just landing a gondola there,” he said. “It’s redesigning the whole base area.”
Stanley said that landing the gondola in the park, rather than above it on Snow King’s private land, would make it more accessible to seniors and people with disabilities, as well as reduce skiing congestion at the base by opening the space where the summit lift now lands.
At perhaps $8 million, the gondola would be one of the most expensive developments. But Stanley said it would also be an essential component of the overall plan, as it will replace the slow, cold, 40-year-old summit lift.
To pay for it, the resort is also proposing installing a zip line. Stanley noted some will be unhappy with such “amusement park” activities, but he said they are becoming common at ski resorts across the country, where they serve as economic drivers for winter recreation.
“That would be for us a world-class attraction,” he said.
Another revenue source they’ve requested is a restaurant on top of the mountain, and along with it a planetarium and observatory.
To construct and maintain those buildings, they are proposing a new access road to the summit, which could double as beginner skiing terrain. The only development beyond their current boundaries to the east and west would be expanded skiing between the switch backs of this road.
Sometime in the future, they also hope to build a lift on the mountain’s sunny backside. Over the next year or so, the U.S. Forest Service will evaluate the proposals involving Bridger-Teton National Forest land and produce an Environmental Impact Statement.
Other proposed improvements include building a mountain sports complex and second ice sheet for the ice arena.
Over the next few months, town planning staff will work with the Snow King Resort Master Association, made up of all property owners in the resort district, to negotiate leases on town land.
Snow King also intends to meet the town’s new housing mitigation requirements, from which it is currently exempt. The resort is proposing a housing development near the Snow King Hotel, large enough to house more than the roughly 20 employees they expect their expansion to generate.
If all goes according to plan, Stanley said they could carry out these projects over the next few years.
With a fraction of the number of skier days that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort sees, Stanley said updates are aimed at keeping Snow King solvent, while benefiting both locals and visitors. Snow King can’t accomplish either goal with what the resort currently offers, Stanley said.
“We’re not gonna change the ballgame in some major way with skiing here,” he said. “We’re gonna forever be a small community ski hill. But what we can do is have some nice amenities that are modern.”