Lighting to the summit. A new zip line (in addition to the other two proposed on forest land) added to the noisy menagerie of coasters, slides, and mazes by Rafferty. Late-night weddings and “group events” up to five nights a week. A gondola crowding Phil Baux Park and carting tourists to summit bars as late as bars are open on Town Square: 2:00 am. And all on town land leased for next to nothing.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: we want Snow King to succeed as our Town Hill, and not an amusement park. Our community never agreed to zip lines and a late-night summit complex. The Town Planning Commission may review the permit for the zip line and gondola (among other things, especially an operating agreement for all the base area amusements) on June 3, with Town Council voting “yes” or “no” as soon as June 15. This is an opportunity for Town Council to do the right thing for Snow King and our community – especially after leaving too much on the table with the base area master plan.
Learn more about the application and read our comment letter here, or down below. And most importantly, reach out to Town Planning Commission and Town Council to ask them to deny the permit for the zip line, put strict requirements on the operations for all the base amusements and the gondola, and to negotiate for fair leases.
May 5, 2020
Town of Jackson Planning Commission
RE: Gondola and Zip-Line Conditional Use Permit (CUP)
Dear Planning Commissioners,
We appreciate the significant attention that you have already devoted to the future success of Snow King Mountain Resort. The CUP contains many reasonable elements that will provide stability for future investors, including a gondola and renewed leases. Unfortunately, it also includes a highly controversial zip line and alarming proposals for facilities on top and public infrastructure. We love Snow King and we want it to succeed, as our local ski hill and not an amusement park, which is why we ask that you recommend denial of the zip line and put stringent requirements on all amusement development.
First, given the pandemic and massive economic uncertainty, now is not the time to push controversial and divisive projects like a zip line. Our community is adapting to the coronavirus and related fallout. We’ve all adjusted our lives with a “community first” mentality. Community members are focused on their immediate needs, and Town Council is focused on potential 50% budget cuts. This is not the time to push projects through that we already know much of our community sees as harmful and unnecessary. We call on the developers to pause this application until we reach the “New Normal” as defined by Public Health. If they won’t pause it, we ask you to recommend a pause to Town Council.
Second, please don’t approve a zip line simply because it is included as a potential use in the Snow King Base Area Master Plan (BAMPA). Town Council was clear that they were not granting permission for a zip line – or this zip line – in the BAMPA. Rather, they were giving the investors permission to come back with an application. Now, it’s your turn to determine whether this application is good for our community. If you hear from a wide range of our community that a zip line will harm what we love about Snow King, please deny it.
Please do not accept the argument that the zip line is somehow necessary for Snow King’s financial sustainability. Unless the investors are willing to open the books and show that such a claim is true, it simply cannot be the basis for public decision-making. This is not to doubt their truthfulness; rather, it is responsible management of the public trust. As Ronald Reagan liked to say: “Trust, but verify.”
Even if a zip line (or multiple zip lines) were necessary for these investors’ business plan, that doesn’t mean zip lines are necessary for Snow King’s success. Although these investors are only offering our community one option (theirs), we have other realistic alternatives. Mad River Glen in Vermont is a beloved community hill, run as a co-op with community members holding shares. Howelson Hill in Steamboat is run by the city, specifically to prevent it from becoming “Disneyland.” And, during the discussion of a fee on SKRMA supporting the ski area year-in, year-out, the investors estimated that the fee would yield $250,000-$400,000 per year, which is what we have heard the resort needs to be profitable. Jackson Hole is the wealthiest community in the world. If other communities have made town hills work, we can too. Private developers are welcome to run our ski hill, but only if they’ll do so in a way that respects our community values, wildlife, and public lands. This proposal unfortunately fails on all those counts.
Here are our top five reasons why zip lines on Snow King are a net negative:
- Zip lines are controversial. Zip lines were the single most controversial project proposed on town land.[i] Meanwhile, Snow King has also proposed at least two more zip lines on Forest Service (FS) land, including one from summit to base that still shows up as an alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We’ll be engaged throughout the rest of the FS process for as long as it takes to stop these harmful projects and achieve a reasonable compromise – which could take years.
- Zip lines are high-risk. As recently described by Outside magazine,[ii] as zip lines become more popular, injuries and deaths become more prevalent. More than 3,600 injuries occurred in 2012. Locally, a family sued Grand Targhee after a middle school child fell from a zip line during a field trip.[iii] Snow King has also had some very close calls, including failing safety harnesses on the roller coaster,[iv] and opening the mountain on a dangerous day that led to an inbounds slide that endangered 200 children.[v] Given this questionable safety record, the Town should absolutely forbid any additional unnecessarily risky amusement rides.
- Zip lines would make our Town Hill worse. Our community – and visitors – love Snow King for what it is: one of the finest mountains in the country for kids to learn to ski, for youth ski racing, and for uphill-based exercise. Zip lines overhead or nearby would harm every one of these reasons we love Snow King. Our visitors and community members deserve an authentic Town Hill experience.
- Zip lines are inconsistent with our Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations (LDRs). Our Comp Plan establishes that we want to be a community first, resort second. The zip line would primarily serve tourists while aggravating residents and would be an unnecessary shift away from rural Western character.
- Town LDRs regarding Planned Resorts state that resorts should “encourage recreational activities that rely on indigenous natural attributes of the area, contribute to the community’s character and economy and have had a long-standing, beneficial role in the community” and should have a “high degree of self-containment” (4.3.1.A). Zip lines fail on all counts (except perhaps the economy, if divorced from community character). Zip lines do not rely on natural attributes: they work at Vegas and Disneyland just as well as they do on mountains. They harm our community’s character and obviously have not had a “long-standing, beneficial role in the community.” In fact, zip lines are viewed negatively by much of our community, and the noise and lighting will clearly spill beyond “self-containment.”
- The LDRs for this area also call for you to “Ensure a balance is maintained between tourism and community that promotes social diversity but does not cause undesired shifts away from rural, western community character” (4.3.1.A.8). This proposal marks a clear end to “Jackson Hole, Last of the Old West.” Zip lines and massive event centers on top of Josie’s Ridge are widely undesired and clearly not “rural, western community character.”
- Zip lines would have a negative impact on town residents and property owners. The noise and amusement character will reduce neighbors’ quality of life and could decrease property values. One could say “they shouldn’t have bought property near a resort, since they could end up with a zip line,” but the rules were – and still are – clear that zip lines are incompatible with our LDRs. The application says that the “zip line itself” will generate less than 65 decibels, but what about its riders?
To prevent these serious, divisive, and unnecessary impacts, please deny the zip line.
Also, please consider these comments regarding the other elements of the application:
Please support staff’s condition of approval to require operating plans and a cumulative look at all the base area amusements. We agree that base attractions should have uniform closing times to provide for a good customer experience and predictability for the community. We believe 8pm is an appropriate closing time to limit the nuisance and impact on neighbors, recreationists, and our community, with rare exceptions for events (no more than a few times per year). Town Council has heard complaints for years about the current late operation of loud amusements. This is our community’s chance to solve this ongoing problem. Snow King is not a self-contained resort, and its operations need to start respecting the neighbors and community nearby. Remember, we have a clear goal of being a community first, not just a resort. If these investors can’t run the resort without unacceptable impacts on our community, then they should let someone else take over who is willing to respect our community.
Please do not allow the resort to extend closing hours to 10pm up to five days per week for “special events and groups.” Even going to 10 pm a few times a year is a major nuisance to our community. Five days a week is outrageous. With a wedding venue and event complex proposed for the top, weddings, private parties, fundraisers, corporate retreats, exclusive group tours, or anything else qualifying as a “group” could occur frequently – meaning that the light and noise disturbance to people and wildlife could be virtually nonstop. Events on the summit requiring extended hours should be subject to a special event permit since they will require use of the gondola located at Phil Baux Park, and with a low annual limit for all such events (five per year?).
Please require a respectful 8pm closing time for the gondola and summit complex. The applicant proposes to allow the gondola and summit complex to operate as late as the bars in town. That is also outrageous. A downtown bar experience is utterly inappropriate for the summit of our Town Hill or for our public lands. The Forest Service rules also do not allow commercial development that is already available nearby[vi] such as the bars downtown. Furthermore, additional summit ridge light pollution could negatively impact many wildlife species, particularly lynx, which are a threatened species. Ridgeline lighting and nighttime activity not only impacts all town residents but would also spill over into Leeks Canyon, which is extremely important for wildlife.
A note on housing. We support Housing Department’s staff recommendation to conduct an independent calculation on the number of year-round employees to be generated by replacing lifts with a gondola; please require it as a condition of approval for the gondola permit.
Lastly, please negotiate for fair leases of our public land. 50 years is way too long to lease town land to anyone. We have no idea what the economy will bring in a month, let alone a year. Why give below-market rates to an investment group for 50 years? The applicant claims that the lease length is comparable to other leases the town holds but does not provide examples. We researched the question and found that the lease for the fairgrounds is only 24 years. In fact, Snow King’s town leases should be up for renewal at the same time as the permit for the Forest Service – in 2039 – so that the town can re-negotiate terms as the developers propose other changes in the future.
Additionally, if the investors get to use ~30 acres of Town land for below-market rates, they should stop charging the Town high rates for using the communication towers on top of Snow King, and town residents should regain the free year-round uphill access that we had for almost 80 years. Otherwise, the investors should provide the town with a measure of profit-sharing from all use of town lands.
Overall, we believe that a far better future is possible for Snow King than what the investors are proposing. Zip lines and late-night amusements clearly make Snow King worse, they’re controversial, and Snow King can succeed without them. Please don’t let the current group of investors convince you that unless you approve everything they want, Snow King will fall apart. Clearly, there are better ways, and we would be more than happy to talk through those strategies with you as a group or individually, at your convenience.
Community Planning Manager
[i] Cottier, Cody. (2018, Nov. 14). “Future of King packs hearing.” Jackson Hole News & Guide. https://www.jhnewsandguide.com/news/town_county/future-of-king-packs-hearing/article_6a9db294-b275-5dd4-8a47-1eb5f989febc.html.
[ii] Borrell, Brendan. (2017, Feb. 28). “Just how dangerous are zip lines?” Outside. https://www.
[iii] Breysse, Emma. (2012, May 4). “Afton family sues Targhee.” Jackson Hole News & Guide. https://www.
[iv] Cottier, Cody. (2018, Aug. 23). “Seat belt failures close coaster, spark recall.” Jackson Hole Daily. https://www.jhnewsandguide.com/jackson_hole_daily/local/seat-belt-failures-close-coaster-spark-recall/article_58033c12-05b7-5646-b5ec-931ef260561c.html.
[v] Mieure, Emily. (2017, Feb. 11). “Slide closes Snow King.” Jackson Hole Daily. https://www.
[vi] Forest Service Manual 2340.3 states: “Deny proposals by the private sector to construct or provide outdoor recreation facilities and services on National Forest System lands if these facilities and services are reasonably available or could be provided elsewhere in the general vicinity.”