We want Snow King to succeed financially. Right now, a group of stakeholders is drawing up scenarios for the future of the Town Hill, including balanced visions like what we shared recently. But we’ve been here before – our Town already gave Snow King’s investors a great deal, and they haven’t followed through on their side of the bargain.
What has our community already given Snow King’s investors?
Back in 2000, the Town struck a deal called the “Resort Master Plan” with Snow King’s owners. Our community knew running the ski hill could be a financial challenge, so we gave the investors a major increase to around a million square feet of commercial development potential at the base – the equivalent of 10 Marriotts or two Four Seasons. Essentially, local government created many millions of dollars of commercial property value through an upzone, and gave it to the investors.
Our community has held up our end of the deal: on top of what’s already been built, we still allow another 500,000 square feet of commercial development at the base. The hotel can double in size, and the main investors in Snow King also own land at the base where they can build a convention center, hundreds of hotel rooms, and more luxury condos.
What was Snow King’s side of the deal?
Snow King agreed to use some of the additional revenues from the increased lodging and commercial development to fund “community-oriented activities” like operating the ski area. The Resort Master Plan was crystal clear on how this would work:
“The Snow King ski area provides a venue for the junior ski racing programs, adult ski racing as well as recreational skiing and snowboarding, both day and night. … It must be noted that many of our community partnership activities mentioned above often come at a high cost to Snow King. Resort operation of lodging and other facilities provides the financial and operational platform and the resources to support these and other community-oriented activities.” [172-173]
This is normal for ski resorts – most don’t make their money on lift tickets, they make money on lodging, real estate, and commercial development at the base.
So, Snow King’s investors agreed to create the Snow King Resort Master Association (SKRMA). The simplest way to understand SKRMA is that it’s like a Homeowners’ Association (HOA) for everyone who owns land or does business at Snow King. SKRMA was empowered to charge dues on all the property owners. According to the Resort Master Plan:
“SKRMA will act as a pseudo improvement district and be entitled to assess and collect dues and assessments from all property owners, renters, resort guests and from any entities performing management functions, owning property or obtaining revenues within this Planned Resort District. These dues are intended to cover all of SKRMA’s costs including various mitigation plans, constructing and maintaining any improvements that are its responsibility including landscaping, roads, utilities, employee housing, parking, pathways, recreation, district promotion, common signage, transportation, marketing and any other aspects associated with the proper and successful implementation of this Master Plan and its goals and objectives.” 
The deal was clear: the community gave Snow King’s investors additional commercial value and revenue; in return, the investors agreed to use part of that revenue to pay for community benefits.
What went wrong?
Unfortunately, Snow King’s investors never carried out their end of the deal. They never levied dues through SKRMA to fund the “community-oriented activities” with those dues.* According to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s website, SKRMA stopped even filing its paperwork, so the State dissolved it in 2014. (Snow King has since re-filed SKRMA’s paperwork.)
It gets more complicated. When our community made the deal with Snow King in 2000, the same investors owned everything: the ski area, the hotel, and the vacant land at the base, so it would have been easy for them to set up SKRMA. But over time, the investors made business decisions to sell off key parcels like the hotel and the new condos, sacrificing part of their “financial and operational platform” for short-term cash. As a result, there are now more owners at the SKRMA table, making it more complicated to get agreement on how to levy and spend dues.
What is Snow King asking for now?
Snow King’s current investors now want our community to let them off the hook from the deal they bought into: they want to get out of all their responsibilities but still keep all the benefits of increased commercial and lodging property values from that deal.
And they want us to approve a new deal, in which the income from new summer amusement development (with intrusive “improvements” like ziplines, the roller coaster, and new chairlifts in wildlife habitat) pays for the community-oriented activities. But they should already be paying for those activities through the increased commercial and lodging revenues we gave them.
What should we do?
Before our community gives Snow King’s investors even more economic benefits through further development on our Town Hill, we and our Town Council need to hold them accountable to the deal they already agreed to.
Before we approve anything new, Snow King’s investors should get together with the other resort property owners and agree on a legally-binding SKRMA funding structure, dues, and what those dues will go to. They should commit to keeping the lifts spinning, maintaining free uphill public access to our public lands, building workforce housing, and investing in transit and parking for their new summer traffic – with the dues from their commercial and lodging revenues.
Please join us in asking our Town Council to hold Snow King’s owners accountable to the deal that they bought into when they bought our Town Hill. We want Snow King to succeed, but not at the expense of our community values or a fair deal.
For further reading…
Here is the whole master plan. Please read Chapter 11, “Phasing and the Snow King Resort Master Association” and Chapter 12, “Community Services Element” (pages 170-173), and let us know what you think!
* Correction: we originally wrote about the investors: “They never levied dues through SKRMA and never funded “community-oriented activities” with those dues.” We have since learned that at least in recent years, SKRMA has levied dues to cover shared costs like snow removal. We have updated this post. We stand by our statement that they still have never levied dues to fund the community-oriented activities listed in the masterplan – like keeping the lifts running – as they were supposed to. — 10/16/18