I think most of us want to see Snow King — the Town Hill — remain a financially viable part of our community. I also think many of us have questions about a large new development that greatly expands the operations footprint into undeveloped national forest land.
To make Snow King financially sound, I am willing to accept some things I do not really like: the mountain coaster, a limited zipline by the coaster ride, more ski trails, a new ski lift, maybe some development at the base and a restaurant on top. I am happiest if it can be done within the existing footprint.
Actions that improve frontcountry access for recreation often make sense in the wildland-urban interface. However, we keep whacking away at wildlife habitat and small-town community character.
Less natural habitat and more vehicle traffic take a toll on wildlife every day. If we are to remain the iconic destination for outdoor lovers who live here or visit here for the area’s inherent natural wonders, we need some limits to growth in Jackson Hole.
Maybe it is not fair to pick on the owners of Snow King, but where do we draw the line on expansion and new development?
Encroaching on many acres of an intact forest ecosystem, some of it key winter habitat, to more than double the footprint of Snow King’s operation is difficult for me to swallow. Will this massive level of new development help our community reach its objective to financially sustain the Town Hill or will it saddle the operation with insurmountable debt? Is there really enough new demand, or existing demand that can be diverted, to pay for this much new development at Snow King? Will proponents of this expansion be transparent and show us their financials? Will they assure us that the expanded Snow King will not then be sold to a national conglomerate?
I think the smart approach on Snow King is to start with some limited measures within the existing footprint that should improve the hill’s appeal and cash flow. Let’s do these first, give it a few years, and see where that leaves us. We can still look at major developments after this first round of improvements is implemented and tested.
For example, there seems to be widespread support for building an observatory and a green-built summit restaurant on top of Snow King — constructed not too far outside the footprint of the existing Panorama House. There is far less support for 20,000 to 25,000 square feet of new buildings.
I think most of us realize that Snow King needs a new lift, but are not sure about a costly gondola.
Many people oppose a new road switchbacking up the face of Snow King, in favor of the existing access up the backside in Leeks Canyon, which has been in place and used for decades.
There is support for a new beginner and intermediate ski area in the Rafferty area, on the east side of the existing footprint, but a lot of uncertainty on building new slopes with lifts and snowmaking capacity on backside wildlife winter range for elk, moose and mule deer.
Many of us even support some tree and downfall removal to maximize the use of existing inbounds terrain with the construction of some new trails, which is heresy for some environmentalists.
Keeping Phil Baux Park publicly available, allowing access to the public trail system through Snow King to the Cache Creek trails and walking up Snow King in the summer need to be maintained. Skinning up Snow King in the winter, for a reasonable fee to help cover grooming costs, should remain a part of the Town Hill experience.
Important questions remain on development at the base of Snow King. The current master plan allows around 500,000 square feet of new commercial development. Do we really need or want a convention center, hundreds of new hotel rooms, and more luxury condos?
How does doubling the footprint of Snow King square with claims that Jackson Hole is a sustainable destination? More importantly, how does new development on Snow King square with our Teton County Comprehensive Plan? The plan states: To achieve our desired community character, the community must protect and enhance the ecosystem in which we live.
Whatever outcome we decide, I hope we accomplish it respectfully, honestly and with civility. Name calling or accusing those who have a different view of being “greedy” should have no place in this discussion among neighbors on what is the best future for the Town Hill.