JHNG Article: Snow King details Phase 2

By Ben Graham and Mike Koshmrl | Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 4:30 am

Snow King

A slate of new projects are in store for Snow King Mountain Resort. Ski area owners have begun a years-long 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 decision-makers said this week they will begin seeking approval for a gondola, top-to-bottom zip line and boundary expansion that would make the Town Hill two-thirds larger.

The King’s president, Max Chapman, outlined the ambitious plans for Jackson’s historical community ski area at a town meeting Monday. The aim, Chapman said, is to create a ski hill that will serve locals while also holding its own against other resorts in the region and across the country.

“The goal that we’re trying to have for Snow King is to create a truly first-class recreational area that will be for the benefit of our locals as well as our visitors,” Chapman said, “and can compete with anybody in the area or anyone in the country in terms of quality and experience.”

Other additions grouped into Snow King’s latest plans include lift-accessed mountain bike trails, a “first class” restaurant on the summit to replace the Panorama House, a new road and maybe even an observatory.

The zip line, according to Snow King’s website, would be the steepest in the country, capable of reaching speeds up to 70 mph.

An environmental review of the proposals is likely to take a year and a half to two years to complete, Chapman said. Snow King has already hired the ski resort planning firm SE Group to complete the task.

Snow King spokeswoman Keely Herron said the review would be an environmental impact statement, the most exhaustive analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The slate of projects constitute what resort officials call “phase two” of the massive overhaul that has taken place on the 7,808-foot mountain since Chapman took over as president of the ski area last November.

Similar plans have been proposed in the past by former resort president Manuel Lopez, who died in January. A new snowmaking system was built largely using a state loan and grant, but other grander ideas that have been discussed, such as a gondola, have never come to pass.

In the Chapman era change has happened quickly. Much of the first phase of the overhaul is still under construction but should be complete soon, including a mountain coaster and a base lodge. The new Rafferty lift is complete, and work on a ropes course begins this week. The projects were made possible in part by an $8 million cash infusion from investors.

In his announcement, Chapman acknowledged the opposition Snow King received from residents last year regarding the manner in which the ski area sought approvals.

Snow King asked for and received fast-track approval from the Jackson Town Council for the new mountain coaster. The council granted speedy approval despite an outcry from residents who asked for time to comment.

Resort officials also presented plans for improvements on Bridger-Teton lands that included replacing the Rafferty lift and adding a ropes course and snowmaking infrastructure in a way that allowed them to sidestep more in-depth environmental review.

The ski area appears to be taking a different approach with the next phase.

“The goal is to begin that process and to have a full and complete airing of what our plans are,” Chapman said.

The two- to three-month internal planning process Snow King is embarking on will be paid for with private money, Herron said.

“There is not tacit approval of any plans,” she said, “or a cost to the town of Jackson for us to undertake this process.”

Once the process is completed a meeting will be called to report findings and more refined plans to the public, Herron said. The ski area has even set up an email address for people who want to comment: phase2@snowkingmountain.com.

“After we finish the public meeting there’ll probably be additional refinements to our plan,” Herron said.

The Jackson Town Council agreed Monday to allow the resort to incorporate town-owned land in the planning process. A parcel just north of the Summit lift’s base belongs to the municipality.

Any specific proposal that involves town land would be brought back before the council, Chapman said.

Now that the town has consented, Snow King will present the Bridger-Teton National Forest with its plan. Perhaps the largest change being pursued on forestland is the expansion to both the east and the west.

If plans are approved as written, Snow King will stretch roughly as far east as Rancher Street. On the west edge it would align with the Rodeo Drive loop. In all the two-part expansion would enlarge Snow King’s permit with the Forest Service from 370 to 614 acres, according to a resort master plan that was accepted last year.

Any movement of the boundary would be years away.

“This entire project is three to five years from realization,” Herron said. “We’re at the very beginning, starting to talk about our intentions.”

Herron described the replacement of the Summit lift with a gondola as a step in the envisioned path forward. Its approval is necessary to pursue a restaurant or observatory at the summit, she said.

“I think the gondola is really the biggest challenge,” she said, “both logistically and from our planning perspective, because it’s potentially going to be located on town property at the base of Snow King.”

The projects, she said, “are all kind of grouped together as phase two, but certainly the main element of this is going to be the gondola.”