Federal officials whose job it is to review and authorize the transformation of Snow King Mountain have released bare-bones versions of four blueprints being considered for the ski area.
None of the options soon to be released by the Bridger-Teton National Forest departs drastically from what the ski resort owners have already proposed.
“The challenge would be meeting the purpose and need,” Bridger-Teton ski area administrator Sean McGinness said of any significantly scaled-back or altered designs for the 7,808-foot-high hill overlooking town.
Besides the customary “no action” option, all of the “alternatives” on the table seek to expand Snow King’s boundaries to the east and west essentially by the same amount. All options would permit a high-speed quad lift on the undeveloped southern face and a summit gondola.
Each course of action also allows for a zip line from Snow King’s summit, though routes down the hill vary. A longer, lower-grade road replacing the current summit road is also part of all the options.
An “alternative summary report” was released Wednesday by the Bridger-Teton for transparency’s sake, preceding a draft environmental impact statement expected in November. That document, which is being prepared by Snow King consultant Cirrus Environmental Solutions, will detail in hundreds of pages expected impacts of four alternatives outlined in the summary report.
Alternative two, which was triggered by Snow King’s original proposal, includes five new ski runs on Snow King’s developed face. A zip line in this option would run top to bottom. It also includes new facilities, including a new summit wedding venue, a yurt camp and a summit building. Snowmaking would increase by 90 acres, and night skiing, enabled by lighting, would be extended to the summit and expanded by 27 acres.
In response to concerns raised by the town of Jackson, which is in its own process for Snow King, the Bridger-Teton developed alternative three, which is supposed to balance “recreation” and “resource protection.” Under this option, there is a single acre reduction of the western expansion to keep the ski area boundary out of critical mule deer winter range. The Cougar Lift would be removed — a step not favored by Snow King — and the ski area would be asked to build a “Snow King Historical Interpretive Center” to pay homage its ski hill’s 83-year history. There would also be changes to the zip line alignment and mountain biking trails.
Another notable change between Snow King’s original submittal and alternative three is 178 wooded acres that would be thinned to help fight wildland fires and create defensible space. An accompanying map shows that almost all the timber stands included within the ski area boundaries would be subject to mechanically thinning, which would take place a bit at a time over many years, McGinness said.
Alternative four, which prioritizes “resource protection,” eliminates several of the new planned runs in existing developed areas in exchange for new runs in both east and west expansion areas that are not included in other options.
Option four also calls for glading, instead of clear-cuts, along several new cut-off runs that would span the summit road switchback on the east-side expansion.
Differences and commonalities between options listed here are not comprehensive. Review them all in the forest’s summary report posted alongside this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.
One Jackson conservationist who has watchdogged Snow King had a dim view of options he saw as one and the same.
“We hoped to see a legitimate range of alternatives, and that is clearly not what the Forest Service has proposed,” Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Executive Director Skye Schell said. “The real ‘alternatives’ are all basically the same and allow the same major and harmful expansions into wildlife habitat.
“It seems the contractor and Forest Service completely ignored the wildlife professionals at Wyoming Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who raised important concerns about losing wildlife habitat,” he said.
The National Environmental Policy Act, the federal law governing the Bridger-Teton and Snow King planning process, demands that environmental impact statements contain a “reasonable range of alternatives.” The law stipulates that options also must accomplish the “purpose and need” of the project.
Bridger-Teton officials say they do not anticipate identifying a “preferred alternative” in the draft EIS. The ultimate selection will either be a blend of options or one of the alternatives detailed, McGinness said. NEPA requires identifying a preferred alternative in a draft environmental impact statement, if it exists.
Snow King Resort General Manager Ryan Stanley did not return a phone call requesting comment by press time.