JHNG Article: Gondola, 2nd rink could be coming to King

POSTED: WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2014 12:15 AM
By Ben Graham

Snow King Plans

The map shows changes proposed for the base of Snow King Mountain. New elements include a second ice rink in place of the parking lot north and downhill of the existing rink complex. A gondola and ticket office at the corner of South Cache Street and Snow King Avenue would replace the ball field.

Nonprofits and investors involved with Snow King Mountain have tentatively backed a plan that calls for a new gondola and an additional ice rink at the base of the ski area.

The plan, which was commissioned by the town and is still a draft, seems to have assuaged for now some of the tension that existed between the groups that use and operate the Town Hill.

One of them is the nonprofit that operates the the Snow King Sports and Events Center ice rink. Another is Snow King Recreation, which runs the ski hill and owns about 50 acres around the base of the mountain.

There had been differing opinions about where to build new development at the bottom of the mountain, especially a new ice rink.

The organization that manages the rink — Center Management Inc. — supports the plan, which calls for the rink to be erected in place of the parking lot north and downhill of the existing rink complex. In the past, the idea had been floated of building the rink to the west of the center, on privately owned land.

More ice, more conferences

“The reason for an extra sheet of ice is really evident from a skating perspective but even more evident from a tourism perspective and being able to bring conferences in,” ice rink board member Steve Sullivan said at a Jackson Town Council meeting Monday. “Right now we’re really limited in what we’re able to do.”

Manuel Lopez, managing partner of Snow King Mountain Recreation, likes the location of the proposed ice rink. He also supports the “concept” of the gondola, which is included in a separate plan orchestrated by Lopez and Snow King Mountain Recreation for the ski hill.

“From our perspective the gondola is a huge deal; it fits into the overall plan,” Lopez said at the meeting while referencing his own plan. “I consider it an endorsement that someone from out of town says this is a good idea.”

It remains to be seen who would pay for what development. The details are in flux. The larger question now is how exactly the town-commissioned master plan fits in with the plan arranged by the ski area.

The latter includes a gondola as well but also zip lines, a ropes course and a host of other amenities aimed at bolstering summer activity and revenue on the mountain. That may not exactly jibe with the town’s vision. The new plan doesn’t include zip lines, one of which was already approved by the council last year.

The ski area’s plan has been submitted to the Bridger-Teton National Forest for acceptance. The forest, which oversees much of the land above Snow King’s base, says the plan isn’t available yet to the public because it is a draft document that could still be changed.

Town officials say the new plan is a sort of statement about what the municipality is willing to do on public land. It also is a plan that includes the interests of the many groups that use the mountain, including the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club and the Jackson Hole Snow Devils. The latter puts on the annual World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb.

Town officials and the author of the plan, Bill Kline, stressed multiple times the “public park” character of the hill.

“There’ve been all kinds of competing visions for how public land should be used,” Councilor Jim Stanford said. “I think Bill has done a good job of navigating a minefield of strong opinions.”

At the meeting some people did raise concerns that the plan didn’t do enough to connect Snow King with the rest of downtown Jackson.

Planning consultant Shawn Hill spoke on behalf of the Center for the Arts, saying there is some anxiety that the amphitheater and ice rink would duplicate amenities that could be included in development plans for the center’s property.

Arts advocate and nonprofit leader Candra Day said more should have been done to link the hill to the arts center and Town Square.

‘A huge attraction for all of us’

However, Lopez maintained the projects in the plan would serve more than just the ski area.

“I think it would be a huge attraction for all of us,” he said, referencing businesses downtown and the potential to draw conferences to Jackson.

Town councilors weighed in briefly at the meeting, citing concerns about parking and the removal of the baseball diamond.

Kane said the goal of building the gondola and ticket offices in place of the field, at the corner of South Cache Street and Snow King Avenue, is to connect the hill to town.

It’s difficult for a person to arrive at the base of the ski area and figure out where to go for tickets or rentals, Kline said at the meeting.

Having the lift at that corner gives “a sense that you’ve arrived at the base of a ski area,” he said.

The Town Council will review the plan again at future meetings.

It represents the latest stage in the ongoing saga of rebuilding Snow King Mountain.

Lopez and his partners were awarded state funding last year to build new snowmaking pipes to the top of the mountain. Work on the project hasn’t begun yet.

It is well known around town that the ski area has been losing as much as $700,000 annually.

The improvements proposed by Lopez are aimed at turning the Town Hill into a sustainable, year-round business.

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