Snow King opening day

Snowmaker Alex Webb takes a run on Snow King on opening day of the Town Hill’s 80th season.

The proposal to improve and expand Snow King Mountain has generated a great deal of interest, discussion and passion in recent months. As a longtime resident of Jackson and a summer and winter user of the King, I want to express some thoughts regarding the Snow King expansion plans.

The current owners of the Snow King Mountain Resort have invested significant money, effort and energy to improve the mountain and to make it economically sustainable.

The debate currently underway will determine which improvements can be built, and that decision will affect the financial future of Snow King. The owners and many community members believe that without these improvements, the mountain cannot be fiscally sustainable, thereby jeopardizing the mountain operations. Other community members fear that the proposed improvements and expansion will forever change the character of the King.

While there are legitimate differences of opinion about whether the proposed changes to Snow King are appropriate, everyone involved in this debate wants the King to be economically sustainable and to continue to be a community ski hill. In some respects these are competing objectives.

While my opinion and $2 will get you a cup of coffee, I believe the best solution to address these competing objectives is for the Snow King Mountain to become a community-owned asset.

It is in the community’s long-term best interest for the town of Jackson (with private/nonprofit partners) to purchase Snow King Mountain Resort from its current owners. I would propose this acquisition be accomplished through the use of specific purpose excise tax funds and private philanthropy. It seems to me that if this community values a community ski hill as much as has been articulated recently, then we as a community should be willing to put our money — or, as in the case of sales tax, the tourists’ money — where our community mouth is.

In order to operate the mountain effectively and efficiently, the model I propose envisions that Snow King Mountain Resort be governed by an independent board of directors appointed by the Jackson Town Council. The board would be composed of the various interest groups and would operate the mountain. I believe that structure is somewhat comparable to Bridger Bowl in Montana. Another option would be for the town to contract with a nonprivate organization created to manage mountain operations.

It is my understanding there will be a SPET election in August 2019.

I propose that the community reach an agreement with the owners of Snow King Mountain Resort to buy the mountain and that elected officials include a question on this ballot to fund the acquisition of Snow King. Obviously, any agreement would need to include contingencies related to a successful SPET election and meeting the private fundraising targets.

While there are many details that need to be resolved for this to happen, I wanted to initiate a discussion of this matter in order for us to have a community conversation about it.

Bob McLaurin is former town administrator of Jackson. Guest Shot opinions are solely those of the author

(2) comments

Shane Rothman

I agree with Bob McLaurin, not Ed Sanden. SK can’t go on like this, the business model needs to change. Private ownership just isn’t right. In the meanwhile, the public could use some better representation in this “public/private partnership”, these plans would’ve been better from the start, and this process could’ve been way more efficient. Time for a volunteer Advosory Board appointed by Town and County. Plus, SKMR LLC could definitely use some help managing “recreation”...

Ed Sanden

After coming this far, it feels like this idea is a little late, and more than a dollar short. Since there is a private company, with capital, and passion wishing to develop, why not allow them to? If they do a great job, and they will have the reality of market forces and every incentive to do so. They are not mercenary real estate developers who want to flip the property, make a fortune, destroy Jackson and escape. They seem to be committed. They have certainly faced a long and tedious resistance campaign. Regardless, IF they are not successful, after spending significant money, time and effort, or they can't crack the code for making it both attractive, functional and an ongoing concern, then they will be forced to sell, and that would be good news for the Town and the market price. At such a point the prospects and solution might be 100% clear - the community may have to make it a Town owned asset.

I've skied Bridger, near Bozeman, Montana, as well as Cooper Mountain near Leadville, CO. Both I believe are non-profits, and in the case of Cooper it may even be run by the government. Aside from the novelty of being sort of dumpy town hills, with significant history (unknown to most) with marginal grooming, maintenance, and parking, they are nothing to write home about. All of us probably remember some plain jane local ski resort we fooled around at as kids somewhere. Of course we are nostalgic for those good old days. Snow King is a gem and a prime asset for the Town of Jackson. A good operator could make this facility shine. A poor operator can't really make it much more drab unless that chairlift and snack bar are nostalgic community ideals to keep teetering on forever. So what if there is a zip line? If it is well run and maintained, some %age of visitors will enjoy. It will likely evolve into other things, none of which would be capable of profaning the setting to any meaningful degree.

The Great Wall of China, at a point close to Beijing, has a pathetic little "coaster" that drops down to a parking lot. A truly un-enthralling failure that every tourist with kids takes just for the heck of it. It is likely a "non profit". The workers certainly seem so inspired.

This reader would favor giving a Developer the best possible opportunity to make Snow Kind great. It should be a world-class, world renown facility that needs vision, support, direction, commitment and capital. People will resist everything if given a chance, and they'll resist moreso if encouraged or given vague, ongoing options, because that just amplifies the risk of change. Change is scary. What if you get it wrong? Fix it! Onward!

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