JHNG Article: Changes on King are ‘better, not different’

By Mike Koshmrl | Posted in the Jackson Hole News and Guide: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 4:30 am

Snow King

A slate of new projects are in store for Snow King Mountain Resort. Ski area owners have begun what they describe as a yearslong approval process for a gondola and a boundary expansion that would increase the size of the resort from 370 acres to 614 acres.

Snow King Mountain Resort officials pushing a plan to renovate and expand upon the Town Hill say proposed changes on the horizon will improve the ski area more so than transform it.

Financier and resort president Max C. Chapman Jr. provided that interpretation of Snow King’s Phase 2 plans while speaking Friday in a Grand View Lodge conference room.

“It really, to me, is not that different, it’s only better,” Chapman said.

Giving an example, the businessman pointed to swapping in a gondola for the current Summit lift, an aging double-chair that takes 15 minutes to climb to 7,810 feet on the mountain.

“We’re going to change to a gondola, which can carry six to eight people up in three or four minutes,” Chapman said. “That’s a change — that’s not a big change — it’s just better.”

Chapman also described some of the changes Snow King planners envision on the mountain’s summit. Replacing the Panorama House, he said, will be a “first-class restaurant” and other new infrastructure.

“We’re going to have a theater there that can in fact be used for … weddings, whatever,” Chapman said.

Also included in a slate of Phase 2 additions are an observatory and planetarium, lift-accessed mountain bike park, network of zip lines, improved road to the summit, new night lighting and grading of ski runs.

Snow King has laid out plans to grow not only as a business enterprise but also literally.

“We do want to expand the size of the ski hill,” Chapman said.

New terrain to the east would be geared toward intermediate skiers, while to the west and along the summit would go beginner terrain, he said.

The expansions, if approved as described in the resort’s master plan, will enlarge the ski area by two-thirds, bringing it to 614 acres. The larger Snow King, if permitted by the Bridger-Teton National Forest, would stretch east to Rancher Street and west to the Rodeo Drive loop.

The changes on Snow King have been approved by the Bridger-Teton National Forest in concept, but still must undergo a public review prescribed by the National Environmental Policy Act. Changes to town-owned land at Snow King’s base will need approval from the Jackson Town Council, too.

Snow King anticipates that the approval process will take “several years, and that’s OK,” Chapman said.

The Phase 2 additions come on the heels of Phase 1, which added a new Rafferty lift, mountain coaster, ropes course, base buildings, snowmaking and more.

“We were criticized somewhat last year for getting expedited treatment,” Chapman said. “Well, I appreciate that treatment last year, but this year we want to make sure that this project is truly vetted.”

To analyze the Phase 2 projects, Snow King has hired the engineering firm SE Group to complete an environmental impact statement — the most exhaustive type of NEPA review.

Following Chapman was Snow King General Manager Ryan Stanley, who spoke about recent renovations, the future and, briefly, the Town Hill’s past.

Former Snow King executive Manuel Lopez, who died from cancer in January, was instrumental in creating the resort’s master plan, Stanley said.

“Manuel and his partners, they were the ones who really kept the ski area afloat in some pretty tough times for a very long time,” he said. “I really want to reflect back on him, and I know for a fact that he would be thrilled to see the future.”