After the most extensive public process Jackson has seen in years, Snow King abandoned negotiations with the town, casting into uncertainty its plans for the base of the mountain.
Resort officials, with the help of a stakeholder group, began collecting public input on their proposals for Snow King in January 2018. Six months later they submitted to the town an application to revise the resort district’s master plan, and the town devoted a series of meetings to the subject over several months.
Then, late last month, Snow King General Manager Ryan Stanley withdrew the application, putting a formal pause on part of the resort’s contentious, far-reaching efforts to renovate the Town Hill.
“It is very disappointing that we could not reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” Stanley wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to town Planning Director Tyler Sinclair.
The process was plagued from the start by an awkward dance between the Town Council and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, both of which have jurisdiction over parts of the mountain and both of which would prefer to have input from the other to inform their own review.
When councilors last discussed the matter in February they settled their side of the master plan, which included a gondola in Phil Baux Park and an overhaul of the Snow King Resort Master Association, the much-scrutinized group composed of the owners of the resort proper, Snow King Hotel and the condominiums within the resort district.
But the council decided to wait until it could see the results of the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental assessment before giving official support to Snow King’s proposals for the national forest swath of the mountain, including a zip line, a new summit road and a boundary expansion.
Snow King officials warned they needed that assurance sooner, essentially calling it non-negotiable. Stanley said at the time that they would talk things over with other SKRMA members, but it seemed likely by then that negotiations would falter.
Snow King officials argue they were willing to give all the town required of them and asked, in return, only for the council’s support for the projects on the U.S. Forest Service side.
Jeff Golightly, a resort representative, said they were under the impression that the community engagement process was intended to gather feedback on both the base area and Forest Service plans, yet the town declined to take a stance on the latter.
“We were told to look at them together, we were told the community was going to weigh in on them together,” Golightly said, “and in the end the town decided to break it back apart in our view.”
After large investment from both Snow King and the town — staff spent countless hours reviewing the master plan amendment and $30,000 on a consulting contract for the public engagement process — Snow King officials feel the town had all the information it needed.
But Mayor Pete Muldoon argued the process wasn’t designed to determine whether the community supports the on-mountain projects, like the zip line and summit road. Rather, it was tailored to the town’s jurisdiction at the base, and the councilors did reach a decision on that part of the plan.
Muldoon said it would have been difficult to summarize their constituents’ feelings about Snow King “in a way that could give clear direction to the Forest Service.”
He said he had hoped to find mutual benefit as well but acknowledged it was always possible the process would come to naught.
“We tried. We couldn’t get to an agreement,” he said. “But maybe we’ll get another crack at it.”
Sinclair said that despite the lack of resolution he doesn’t consider the past year a waste of time. If nothing else it served to educate Jacksonites about a little-understood subject of public interest and give them time to form opinions.
“The community has learned a lot,” Sinclair said. “I think [that] will continue to inform this complex discussion going forward.”
It’s unclear, though, where the discussion will go from here, if anywhere. Snow King could choose not to resume negotiations with the town, particularly if it were to gain approval from the Forest Service for its on-mountain projects, which arguably form the core of its overall plans for the resort.
However, Stanley wrote in his letter that “we intend to incorporate feedback from staff, Town Council and the community into a revised amendment to the Snow King Resort District Master Plan for consideration in the future.”
Assuming Snow King does submit another amendment, it would likely come after the Forest Service completes its review. The new amendment would go through another round of public hearings and review by the planning commission and council, and perhaps a lengthier process if it were substantially different.
Bridger-Teton should have a draft environmental impact statement prepared by summer, but it’s likely the final statement won’t be ready until late this year or early next.
Though the town has no direct authority over the Forest Service proposals, it is a cooperating agency and will probably provide comment to Bridger-Teton officials at certain points throughout their assessment.