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By on December 8, 2015

King Confusion

Curious about all the construction hubbub happening at Snow King? Attend the informational meeting Friday at Grandview Lodge. (Photo: jake nichols)

Curious about all the construction hubbub happening at Snow King? Attend the informational meeting Friday at Grandview Lodge. (Photo: jake nichols)

Jackson, WY – Marvin Gaye’s great song, “What’s Going On,” keeps coming to mind whenever I glance up at Snow King. During the 15 years that we have lived at the base of these wild, sunless, forested slopes, it’s forever been uncommon to see more than 25 skiers on the hill, except on race days.

To see a revitalized Snow King is certainly appealing. But what really matters is that we go into this with our eyes wide open.

From the perspective of those who have watched Snow King over many years, it seems foolhardy at first glance for many millions of dollars to be spent there on upgrades. On the other hand, what’s there now is anachronistic and timeworn. On a more personal note, I have also hoped Snow King will find the right balance point to honor the memory of Manuel Lopez, who kept the resort alive through thick and thin before he passed away earlier in the year.

Perhaps now that moment has arrived? Beaucoup dollars are being spent. But given the past, there’s still a feeling that re-grading the bottom of the hill, building an obstacles course and the high tech Cowboy Coaster can’t really make a difference to the bottom line.

Phase 2 is being launched into the approvals process, and suddenly a re-branded future looms large. Among the next round of upgrades are a gondola to take the place of the Summit Chair, a zip line from top to bottom, a new lift further to the east, lift-serviced bike paths and a restaurant observatory to be built at the top.

Even with all of these improvements, it’s still hard to picture how all of this will come together, until, that is, the image of an all-inclusive resort comes into view. With undeveloped large lots still sitting at the bottom of the hill and room for shops and restaurants, Snow King might then really take off, even though it will always be hard to picture hundreds of skiers on the slopes on a sub-zero day.

My own nickname for Snow King is the “town beach.” For anyone who lives nearby, it’s like living on the coastline in a city or on the north shore of Oahu, because in a matter of minutes one can cross over from the socialized world of human affairs into a very deep nature. And like the ocean, so do the moods of the hill vary, drawing one to its slopes like a wolf’s call.

When there’s enough fresh snow and a good base, the skiing is every bit as good as anything one can find in mobbed resort settings. The straight shot boot pack to the top of the hill is amazing, so are the ticket prices. And from the point of view of skiing individual lift lines, one can easily make the argument that the Summit Chair, with its 1,571 feet of vertical, is one of the West’s best for its pure fall line.

And then there’s the summer (which seems painfully irrelevant this morning). But now during the coldest months of winter, I always feel a little sad that there aren’t more people there. To feel this way seems strange because I wouldn’t stand on a serious surf beach and think how unfortunate it is that there aren’t hundreds of people in the water, and Snow King is not for the faint of heart. It’s cold, steep and serious like the north face of a mountain, which, after all, it is.

During the summer, though, the potentials really come into focus. With all of the new amusement park like attractions, packaged vacations at Snow King will be every bit as appealing as those that resorts in Teton Village or anywhere else can offer, especially given how close to the center of town it is.

A few points that most would agree on is that resorts are more inward facing and more detached from their communities and their surroundings than, say, smaller local hotels are. People come to relax and be pampered, and if one is talking about beaches, it really doesn’t matter very much if it’s Cancun this year or Puerto Vallarta the next.

If one were to ask the people who live in Myrtle Beach or the Costa del Sol what they thought of the resorts that their communities are famous for, there would be a wide range of responses. The developer certainly has a vision. But the question is, is it the same as ours?

– Ben Read

There will be an informational meeting from 3 to 6 pm, Friday, December 11 on the next phase of development at Snow King in the Grandview Lodge

Save the Corridor

Forty or 50 years ago, when the West Bank and South Park were starting to be developed, South Park Road should have been extended to WY 22. A northern route between U.S. 89 and WY 390 should have been built. Those things weren’t done and we are paying the price now in the form of valley wide traffic congestion that only promises to get much worse. This negatively affects our lives and our visitors’ experiences.

The Moose-Wilson Corridor has become a de facto pressure valve for the huge cul-de-sac called the Moose-Wilson Road in the summer season. It is a transition zone, where the mountains meet the valley. These life zones tend to be the richest, the most sensitive, and the most deserving of protection.

The single greatest impact to park wildlife, values, resources, and budgets is the private motor vehicle. Were that special interest subject to the same scrutiny and vetting as pedestrians, bicycles or fancy inner tubes, private cars would never have been allowed in our parks in the first place.

Many major western National Parks are working to severely limit or eliminate private vehicles in favor of mass transit, non-motorized travel, and permitted interpretive tours. In Denali Park, for example, only private vehicles with lodge or campground reservations are allowed in. Zion National Park is the same during high season. Grand Canyon and Bryce close their main Rim roads to all but shuttles and non-motorized use in the crowded time of year. Yosemite pursues many strategies to limit autos and their impact. They plow their pathways all winter as well as provide free shuttles, so a visitor doesn’t have to drive for their whole stay in the valley, but has access to everything. These parks are still very popular in spite of their discouragement of private motor vehicles. It seems that Mom, Dad, Buddy and Sis actually like not having to deal with the traffic jams, road rage, and parking hassles they left back home in Anytown.

While the national as well as local trend is to try and lessen the almost total domination of petroleum burning travel, Grand Teton National Park, in its preferred alternative, actually doubles down on automotive abuse of a fragile environment. That narrow emphasis does a disservice to the corridor, its users and potential users. Pedestrian use is not even paid lip service to, even though it is the biggest use in the closed season. If it was perceived as safe and pleasant to walk, many would. As it is, they are shut out even though front country walking is the kind of benign use that should be promoted. This major omission of the EIS is due to not even bothering to take a look at  the seven off-season months.

The Moose-Wilson Corridor is a perfect area to eliminate private traffic to protect resources. It is already closed most of the year. Nobody lives between Poker Flats and Moose anymore. The Rockefeller, Galey and Hartgrave Ranches are gone and reclaimed. There are no campgrounds or lodges. The few destinations, Phelps Lake and Death Canyon trailheads, are easily served by a small shuttle system, bona fide interpretive tours, and non-motorized travel. In short, conservation should trump convenience. It should not be a through route. It arguably should be paved the full length to stop siltation, dust and thousands of gallons of dust suppressant dumped on it each year, but not widened. A new asphalt desert for car storage on the beautiful plateau adjacent to the historic Whitegrass Ranch should just be a small bus turnaround instead. The current parking areas could be reclaimed. Two hundred cars might not sound like much until you realize that half of them will be stopped willy nilly all over the road as soon as a bear pokes his head out of the bush. Transit and tour shuttles would eliminate that.

The problem is, of course, the corridor’s above-mentioned role as pressure valve for a national park, a growing resort community, and Wyoming’s largest and busiest airport. A road and bridge from the south end of the airport roughly paralleling Zenith Road on the east side and Range Road on the west and elevated enough to make it a continuous wildlife overpass would solve many issues such as the Moose-Wilson Corridor controversy and a possible four lane WY 390. It would reduce pollution, carbon footprint, human and wildlife mortality, wasted time and gas, and give the valley a coherent traffic system.

Jerry Blann, the Resors, county officials, WYDOT, Governor Mead, and the Park Service all need to cooperate on this option. The Moose-Wilson Corridor does not exist in a vacuum, and must be considered as part of a bigger picture.

– Keith Benefiel

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