The Town Council wouldn’t vote to allow a private entity to move forward with a massive development on our public lands that will have colossal impacts on the living room of our community without a plan for dealing with these impacts or a single community meeting to hear from you about the proposal… Would they?
This Monday, they might, unless we speak up. Here’s the story.
We’ve all got too many great memories from Snow King to count.
From sucking wind on your first hike to the summit, to bootpacking/skinning up and skiing down during the winter, to watching our kids proudly climb and conquer the boulders at Phil Baux Park, to attending concerts with friends and family, to celebrating the independence of our nation, to tubing shenanigans, to the madness of Hill Climb, to buying locally grown food at the People’s Market, to enjoying the always terrible weather at Eco-Fair – Snow King has played a central role in all of our Jackson Hole lives.
The King is where our kids learn to ski, skate, and play hockey. It’s where we train to climb bigger mountains, and go for leisurely lunchtime strolls with our friends. It’s where we ride our mountain bikes, trail run, eat crawfish, enjoy great music, celebrate, and come together as a community.
Town Square might be the tourist hub of our town, but Snow King is the living room of Jackson Hole and the heart of the community.
For many of us, it feels like Snow King belongs to our community. In fact, it does. Nearly all of the Snow King land on which we play is owned by the Town of Jackson or the Bridger-Teton National Forest, meaning it’s our public land.
Then there’s the dozens of acres of private land at the base, which are governed by what’s called the Snow King Base Area Resort Master Plan, a special zoning designation that gives property owners development rights in exchange for the provision of public benefits. Approved by the Town and County more than 16 years ago, the plan gave copious development rights to property owners, approximately 600,000 square feet of which remain to this day (the equivalent of six Marriotts). In return for these development rights, property owners agreed to provide public benefits like a convention center, access to our public lands, sidewalks and a pedestrian plaza, preserved open space, and employee housing.
Except that over the past 16 years, almost no development happened at Snow King. With no development there were no corresponding public benefits. Meanwhile, despite the best intentions of the previous owners, the ski area languished and hemorrhaged money during winter operations.
This situation changed dramatically a few years ago when a group of investors bought Snow King Mountain Resort, along with much of the land at the base, and set about to revitalize the resort. The new ownership group quickly completed a range of projects, funded through both private and millions of public dollars, aimed at making the resort profitable; including improved snowmaking infrastructure, a ropes course, a mountain coaster, and a rebuilt Rafferty lift with new ski runs.
In a rush to get these projects completed to get the resort in the black, the owners of Snow King got them approved with minimal analysis and comment from citizens, denying our community an opportunity for public input.
No matter how one feels about the merits of these projects, the rushed approval process for these projects left many in the community riled about the lack of public participation.
Now, Snow King is proposing what’s called their “Phase 2 Development Plan,” a parade of projects that includes a gondola and new road to the summit, a top-to-bottom zip line, lift-accessed mountain bike trails, a “first class” restaurant on the summit to replace the Panorama House, an observatory, and potential significant boundary expansions to the east, south, west, and north into Phil Baux Park (you can read the entire proposal for yourself at snowkingmountain.com/mountain/master-plan/). If implemented, this plan will have significant impacts on both Snow King and our entire community.
Once again, regardless of how one feels about the merits of the specific projects proposed as part of this plan, it’s important they all go through a comprehensive public review process. Then we will not only understand their impacts, we can ensure their implementation actually benefits our community, too. The best way to do this is for the Town Council to require an update to the master plan for the base area to encourage Snow King to move forward with projects that align with our community’s vision of a better future and truly benefit our community.
Which brings us to this Monday.
This Monday, May 15, at 2 p.m. the Town Council will receive an update and discuss next steps in the review of the Snow King Mountain Resort 2014 Master Development Plan, submitted to the United States Forest Service (USFS) by Snow King Resort Mountain Resort. The full staff report is available here.
At this meeting the Town Council will consider writing a letter to the Bridger-Teton National Forest allowing the USFS to begin the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for Snow King’s expansion application.
If the Town Council writes this letter, it will be giving its tacit approval to the full range of projects proposed in Snow King’s Phase 2 Development Plan – because once a project has been approved through the NEPA process, it’s pretty much a done deal.
Here’s the thing, if implemented, this plan will have significant impacts on both Snow King and our entire community. Yet the Town has no plan for dealing with the impacts of this proposal, nor has the Town conducted any sort of public process to ensure their implementation actually benefits our community (no, meetings run by Snow King where they gave away free beer and made a sales pitch for their plans do not count as public process, though they were fun, informative, and appreciated).
Making matters worse, the master plan for the private lands at the base of Snow King is 17 years old and completely out of date, contains none of the proposed projects, and does not anticipate an expansion of this sort.
The Town endorsing the Forest Service moving forward with the NEPA process for Snow King’s plans would be like putting down a deposit with a contractor to build second story addition on your house when your foundation is crumbling. It’s backwards and not in the best interest of our community.
Let’s fix our foundation first. Before Snow King moves forward with their plans, the Town Council should require an update to the master plan for the base area to encourage Snow King to move forward with projects that align with our community’s vision of a better future and truly benefit our community.
Snow King should want to hear from our community what projects we actually support, and what the Town will allow, before asking the USFS to enter the NEPA process – as there’s no point to USFS approval for projects if our community doesn’t want them to move forward. Especially given the whole purpose of Snow King’s development plan is to provide a significant community enhancement that will serve this valley for decades to come.
Here’s what you can do to help.
And you can click here to commit to joining us at the Town Council workshop at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 15 in Town Hall (150 E. Pearl) to ask the Town Council in person to make sure Snow King’s plans work for our community.
Thank you so much for caring about the future of Snow King and our community, and we hope to see many of you on Monday.