Like ants to a mound, skiers have been lapping Snow King Mountain rain, snow or shine this spring, on fresh corduroy.
“Looking out the window right now, and there’s quite a few people skiing,” Snow King General Manager Ryan Stanley said Friday.
Among the season’s steady stream of uphill skiers has been Brenton Reagan, a lead guide for Exum Mountain Guides. For Reagan, the King is a de facto alpine training center where he logs elevation to stay in shape for bigger objectives in far-flung places like Kazakhstan and Patagonia.
During a training lap April 24, 2018 — weeks after the lifts had stopped spinning — Reagan happened to ski down after a groomer had just tilled the snow into silky smooth corduroy-like rows.
“I was super delighted because it was such a surprise,” Reagan said.
As he finished his run, he spotted Stanley standing at the base.
“That was amazing,” he told Stanley. “You should do that every year.”
An idea planted, fast forward to this spring when Reagan and Stanley bumped into each other again, this time at a kindergarten dance performance (their kids are in the same class). Reagan asked Stanley how much it would cost to groom the King again this spring. Stanley estimated $1,000 a day.
So Reagan pitched the idea of raising $3,000 to groom once a week for three weeks. Stanley offered to throw in a fourth week for free.
With that deal struck, Reagan started planning a “Let’s Keep Grooming Snow King” fundraiser. As soon as he put the idea out there, an avalanche of emails piled up in his inbox, proffering support and donating prizes.
Reagan regularly organizes events for the mountain clothing brand Arc’teryx, including the winter Arc’teryx Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Academy in Jackson. Arc’teryx, Snow King Mountain and Exum Mountain Guides all backed the fundraiser along with individual donors, who offered raffle-ticket rewards ranging from pottery to photography.
Reagan secured a venue for the fundraiser while backcountry skiing in Grand Teton National Park, where he ran into Cowboy Coffee co-owner Pete MacIlwaine.
Then on April 3, a crowd clad in a variety of vintages of fleece and down coats and vests filled the coffeehouse, spilling out the front door onto North Cache Street.
“I couldn’t believe how fast we were selling raffle tickets,” Reagan said. “We just couldn’t keep up, and that was really fun to sell that many.”
Raffle prizes included coveted gear like Black Crows skis, an Arc’teryx jacket and a Patagonia backpack from Teton Mountaineering.
Some skiers have scoffed at the idea of booting up or using climbing skins to ascend a slope in search of a groomed descent since uphill skiers typically seek out a less manicured experience on fresh powder or spring corn snow.
But Iris Lazzareschi said she’s psyched to see a groomer rid the King of runnels and sun cups, which can make for a less-than-aesthetic ride. Lazzareschi, an avid uphill skier, sported a necklace of raffle tickets she was helping to sell.
“I skin up everywhere it’s legal to skin up here in Jackson,” she said.
Snow King enthusiasts of all ages came for the raffle, from longtime mountaineers to newborn Alta Bowen. Alta’s parents, Tenley Thompson and Dan Bowen, said they use the King mostly in the summer but wanted to support this new offseason endeavor.
“We love Snow King, and we really support people being able to use it,” Thompson said, adding, “Plus, we’re going to win big.”
The crowd made an impression on Reagan.
“I saw so many different types of people,” he said. “The demographic was outstandingly all over the place.”
By the end of the evening, raffle tickets netted $2,805 while beverage sales brought in $150. Francine Bartlett, of Medicine Wheel Wellness, rounded out the rest.
But before grooming could begin, Stanley had to meet with the U.S. Forest Service to add an addendum to the operating plan for the King, which leases land from the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
“That’s the kind of thing we can put into our operating plan for the future, so if we wanted to do it we wouldn’t have to do any paperwork,” Stanley said.
Could this be a recurring tradition on the King every spring?
“I think we probably would entertain it, for sure,” Stanley said. “It’s not a challenge to groom for some time after we close.”
The King has especially good coverage this year after a winter that combined big dumps with cold temperatures to preserve the valley’s low-elevation snowpack — to the chagrin of many.
Even without grooming, uphill skiers hit the slopes in hordes after the King closes. And some have grumbled that some of the best skinning gets demolished when Snow King plows the road right after closing day. Stanley said crews plow the road to give it time to melt and dry out before maintenance and set up of summer services from porta-potties at the summit to the alpine slide at the base. Overall, the King’s summer season is starting earlier than in past years, he said.
“Having access is essential,” he said. “We’ve got more work to do nowadays with the ropes course and the coaster. So we’ve got to be able to get up and access everything.”
Stanley said he asked crews to minimize plowing to accommodate skiers. The cat track between Elk and Lower Elk still has plenty of snow for skiing and skinning. Stanley also sees the postseason grooming as an “opportunity to give back to our local uphill community after such an amazing snow year.”
The King’s groomers took their first two passes April 10 and 15. The final two passes are planned for Monday and April 29. The King asks uphillers to steer clear of the groomer and winch cable during grooming operations, typically scheduled between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., for safety.
Grooming encompasses the Elk, Lower Elk and Holy Land ski runs. Signs will be posted at the base during operations to warn skiers to avoid the area. Since the mountain is closed for the season, hazards are not marked and no ski patrollers are on duty.
Reagan, meanwhile, is already planning for a festive finish to the bonus season.
“I do want to have a little shindig in the parking lot on the last pass,” Reagan said, likely a community barbecue, an idea also endorsed by Snow King.
“I have heard from friends that the parking lot has been full and the vibe has been great,” Reagan said Monday. “Conditions this year are good anyway, but the grooming efforts seemed to highlight or bring out some positivity everywhere.”
Reagan sees climbing the King — on snow or otherwise — as “an amazing resource for exercise, therapy or just [to] have a quick work meeting.”
And for Reagan, each raffle ticket sold at the grooming fundraiser counted as a vote of confidence for the new spring ritual.
“It took the people to do it,” he said. “We the people did it 5 bucks at a time.”