We love Snow King and we want it to succeed as our Town Hill. We believe the current owners’ development proposals will make it worse – bulldozing important mule deer, elk, northern goshawk and great gray owl habitat, putting huge buildings on the summit ridge, and stringing ziplines all over the hill.
So we’ve been looking for alternatives to this massive development scheme. We’re excited about one idea: like in many or most ski areas, commercial/lodging development at the base could support the ski area financially.
And this isn’t just an idea – it’s a real proposal on the table for the December 16 Snow King discussion at town council.
The town council is currently reviewing an amendment to the Snow King base area master plan. We are glad to see that the investors, through the Snow King Resort Master Association (SKRMA), are finally proposing a fee on commercial activity at the base. So far, they don’t want that fee to support the ski area, but we’re hopeful that we can get there.
This isn’t a new idea – it comes straight out of the 2000 Snow King base area masterplan (which governs development at the base):
“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.”
And the town land development regulations for the private property at the Snow King base area are also crystal clear:
Factors and resort characteristics important in Snow King’s future development include… Continued provision of the amenities of “town hill” skiing.
On our reading, it’s clear that base area commercial/lodging development was always supposed to support the ski area.
Here’s the thing – when the town negotiated the masterplan with previous Snow King investors (Manuel Lopez & co), those investors owned everything at Snow King – the ski area, the hotel, and the land that can become tons of condos. Manuel could easily take profits from the hotel or condos and move them over to the ski area. He didn’t need a fee to support the ski area. It was like a puzzle and all the pieces were still together.
But over time, Manuel broke off pieces and sold them for cash – the hotel, the new condos behind the ballfield, other small parcels. So nowadays, there’s no way for the hotel or new condos to support the ski resort (even though the ski resort obviously brings them business). That’s why we think a legally-enforceable permanent fee on commercial/lodging/real estate activity at the base is such a powerful solution to the problems.
According to recent estimates from the developers, a 1% fee at the base (not even including condo sales, which we think should be included) would generate $250-400K every year. From what we’ve heard about how much money Snow King ski area loses every year, this fee could get the ski area to break even – or better – without destroying 290 acres of important wildlife habitat or covering the hill in ziplines and huge summit buildings.
The annual fee might not be enough to fund a new chairlift or gondola, but we believe our community would step up through SPET and fund what we actually want – like what the Ski Club needs to keep youth racing going within the current resort footprint, and avalanche control so locals can skin up and ski down. We would love to help run a SPET campaign for new infrastructure that our whole community wants. =
Basically, we’re at a crossroads.
Option 1: The developers have a proposal to maximize their profit, with intrusive projects all over our town hill, while refusing to use commercial/lodging development to support the hill. We can do better.
Option 2: Use profits from commercial/lodging development at the base to forever support a financially sustainable ski area, without bulldozing wildlife habitat and turning our town hill into a tourist-focused amusement park.
Let’s put the puzzle pieces back together.
It might not be easy, but we believe town council has the leverage they need to put this deal together. Please remember that this is not a philanthropic proposal. The various investors stand to gain a lot from this amendment, like being able to cash out on many new condos on Lots 53/57/58, more condos at the hotel (instead of the currently-approved hotel rooms that may not be as profitable as short-term-rentable condos), and a more-marketable KM6 parcel (the land between the hotel and ice rink). So if the council allows all these condos, we want to make sure our community finally gets a fair fee on commerce at the base.
We’re asking town council to hold out for a good deal, so that no matter who owns what pieces of our Town Hill in the future, we can maintain what we love about it.
Specifically, we are asking the town council to require that SKRMA fees:
- Be mandatory and legally attached to all properties within SKRMA
- Be a minimum of 1%, to line up with other resorts in Teton County
- Cover all commercial transactions, including not only hotel rooms and other short-term rentals, retail, and restaurants, but especially condo sales (with the possible exception of condos developed before 2000)
- Be used to fund the Snow King ski area in perpetuity, so the ski area has a stable funding source (removing the “need” for ziplines and other intrusive developments).
Send town council your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org and show up at the meeting on December 16, 6pm at Town Hall (Pearl & Willow).