Skye Schell

Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Executive Director Skye Schell has unsuccessfully applied for drawings for several affordable units.

We want Snow King to succeed as our Town Hill, not an amusement park.

Jackson Hole can be a national model of a strong community living in balance with nature, and Snow King can be an example of that balance: a ski hill built on our community values of protecting wildlife and providing access to nature on our public lands.

Our vision is: We maintain the free public access we’ve always enjoyed on the public lands on our Town Hill. We respect and protect wildlife and nature, with no net loss of habitat or migration corridors. We respect our neighbors and our community around Snow King. We protect our public lands like Phil Baux Park and the ballfield. We build housing for our workforce to fully offset new development. We ensure economic viability based on quality improvements built within the current resort footprint. And overall we remain a true community, not just another resort town.

We don’t want Snow King to become a large summer amusement park where our Town Hill is covered in roller coasters, top-to-bottom noisy zip lines full of screaming people, and a massive restaurant complex on top, all making our summer gridlock even worse; where boundaries and operations expand into important wildlife habitat; where workers are stacked 12 to a single-family house, as Snow King was caught doing last summer; and where locals have to pay high fees to walk up our own public land.

We want to spark a productive dialogue with bold and creative ideas, instead of being stuck in the all-or-nothing proposal that Snow King’s investors have offered. So we talked with a broad range of community members and developed a balanced vision for our Town Hill, available at JHAlliance.org/snowking. It’s a vision we encourage Snow King’s investors to consider, because we believe it would find much more community buy-in and support than their current oversized proposal. Some highlights:

Snow King’s boundaries protect a diverse concentration of wildlife: elk, moose, owls, northern goshawks, cougars, bears and wolves. Jackson has the rare privilege of an intact ecosystem, and, as stated in our Comprehensive Plan, we are responsible for preserving and protecting it from unnecessary development. We can set a different example from the rampant overdevelopment and commercialization of other resort towns. Instead of expanding boundaries, let’s optimize existing inbounds terrain and facilities.

In 2000 the town gave Snow King a massive commercial development increase, specifically to make it financially successful. The Resort Master Plan listed community benefits like “recreational skiing and snowboarding. It then said, “Resort operation of lodging and other facilities provides the financial and operational platform and the resources to support these and other community-oriented activities.”

We’ve held up our end of the deal: We allow another 500,000 square feet of commercial development at the base — a convention center, hundreds of hotel rooms and luxury condos — but now the investors want more. They want to be profitable both through lodging and commercial sales at the base, and through boundary expansions and amusements like zip lines that make our Town Hill worse.

Instead landowners should hold up their end of the bargain, assess fees on all commercial activities and pay for community benefits. And instead of more hotels and condos let’s build true community assets like another ice rink, a climbing gym, Ski Club facilities, a parking garage and a significant amount of workforce housing. If landowners are interested but can’t afford it, let’s consider public-private partnerships to invest in projects.

Finally, we should have the unfettered right to use our Town Hill as we always have. Snow King now charges $75 to hike up town and national forest land, even though the town already subsidizes mountain operations (grooming, ski patrol, etc.) by providing a deep discount on almost 30 acres of town land for only $100 a month. Almost 90 percent of the ski area sits on public land. Before we agree to new development, Snow King should ensure human-powered public access rights forever. We should be free to walk dogs, run, hike, bike, skin uphill and enjoy the mountain regardless of income.

We believe Snow King can succeed economically with responsible redevelopment, without becoming a private amusement park. If Snow King investors believe this approach is not enough, the burden of proof is on them to be transparent, share the relevant financials and make that case to our community.

If you haven’t already, check out our vision, think about what you want our Town Hill to look and feel like in the future, and join the conversation.

Skye Schell is executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of the author.

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(1) comment

Judd Grossman

No clear cutting or road building should be allowed outside of current resort boundaries.

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