BUZZ: Slednecks vs. Hippies

By on September 27, 2017

Photo by Jules Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons

Residents flip, flop and flounder on a proposed snowmobile event in Jackson

Call it an identity avalanche of epic proportions.

Following three subsequent town council meetings where council members shot down, then agreed to reconsider, then flipped and approved, a snowmobile race at the base of Snow King, community members once again faced an age-old identity crisis: Is Jackson a community of conservationists, hippies and free concert-farmers-market-goers? Yes.

Is it a community of snowmobilers and slednecks? Also yes.

Over the past three weeks, councilors’ — and subsequently PJH’s — inboxes flooded with messages from community members either staunchly opposing or vigorously supporting the International Series of Champions Snocross, a two-day snowmobile event. There was no in between.

Sound familiar? A similar reaction ensued after one councilman and one mayor decided to replace the president’s portrait in town hall chambers with one of Native American Chief Washakie. The same councilman and mayor voted against the snow cross race, and maintained their positions through Monday night (though Mayor Pete Muldoon was absent from Monday’s meeting and did not get to vote). Each decision seemed to split the town in two.

Councilor Hailey Morton-Levinson, meanwhile, surprised even herself on September 18. She was one of the original three votes that shut the event down on September 5. But after receiving over 200 emails and listening to nearly an hour of public comment overwhelmingly in favor of the event, she made a motion to reconsider the event application.

Finally, the application was in front of council again this past Monday. Snow King Mountain Vice President Ryan Stanley proudly presented councilors with amendments to the application, all of which he thought addressed the council’s concerns: an earlier finish, no fireworks, and more restrictive alcohol sales. Instead of donating $1 to the Doug Coombs Foundation, ISOC (the event host) will donate a flat five percent of all ticket sales.

Throughout the three-week deliberation, “community character” became the biggest buzzword.

“What does this say about our character?” questioned Franz Camenzind in public comment.

The question, Camenzind offered, was whether Jackson is the place for such a raucous event.

But snowmobiling is, in fact, essential to “community character,” many reminded the council. Snowmobilers are part of the community, and have been for a long time.

“Snowmobiling is an essential part of the fabric of our community,” said Jesse Combs at the September 18 meeting.

Combs offered statistics to prove his point: There were more snowmobile tags sold in Teton County last year than any other part of the state. Local residents bought 339 tags last year—13 percent of all sold in the state. One need only look around town in the wintertime, he said, to see an abundance of sleds being towed behind trucks.

“To deny [snowcross] would be sending the wrong message to young snowmobilers, and the snowmobiling community in general,” Combs said.

Young snowmobilers like Zach Mason, whose mom Marty spoke up on his behalf, also stated their cases. Zach has participated in snowcross since he was four years old, his mom said. Contrary to the rowdy reputation snowmobilers often have, Mason said, snocross is a family event. “

We’re watching as families continue to grow and bond with each other,” she said. “I implore you to allow an opportunity like this to come to Jackson Hole so you can experience what it is we do every weekend.”

In his initial presentation, Stanley compared the snowcross race to the Hill Climb, arguably to his demise. Councilman Jim Stanford reminded the public what Hill Climb is most known for: Chaos.

“How would you characterize the hill climb?” Stanford asked Police Chief Todd Smith

“It would definitely qualify as one of the busiest weeks we have,” Smith replied.

Smith described a weekend full of fights, DUI’s, and public intoxication charges. Last year, 78 kegs of beer were sold in just one day.

“There are definitely public safety issues in the evening,” he said.

“An event that promises the atmosphere of the hill climb is not something I’ve ever heard a single resident wish for,” Stanford said.

He continued, stating that the community members he talks to merely  “tolerate” the hill climb.

“It’s not their favorite thing, but they tolerate it,” he said.

That didn’t sit well with a lot of people. Cue the emails.

“You as elected officials have a duty to the community, not to your personal agenda,” wrote Tom Kostreba. “Snowmobilers are good people who do great things for many. Look at the real facts on what the Jackson Snow Devils [the entity behind the Hill climb] are donating to the Shriners.”

“I think the discriminatory comments and opinions toward a particular interest group are not appropriate for public officials,” wrote Firtz Doster. “All the opposing comments and excuses I have read and heard about thus far seem to be fishing for reasons not to host this event.”

There is substance to the opposition, though. Any additional noise and raucous that might inconvenience humans is an even bigger bummer to local wildlife.

“This is not about profiling or stereotyping as [Councilman Don Frank] felt the need to bring up, but about being good neighbors and having the best interest of our entire community, including our wildlife, at heart,” Mike May wrote.

The Conservation Alliance voiced similar concerns. Snow King is home to deer, elk, moose, cougars, bears and even wolves, said Executive Director Skye Schell.

“The presence of wildlife shouldn’t be up for debate,” Schell said.

Fourth of July fireworks are disruptive enough. There’s no telling what harm this event could do to wildlife populations.
In the end, public outcry was enough to convince Morton-Levinson to change her vote Monday night. With Muldoon absent, the council voted 3-1 in favor of the event.

Stanford remained opposed.

“There has been a lot of opinions on this both for and against,” Morton-Levionson said. “I don’t do this to make everyone happy and I know not everyone will be. But I always have the community’s interest at heart, and please note: we are one community.
Councilman Don Frank echoed previous condemnations of the brush with which the snowmobiling community had been painted.

“I have little stomach for an ‘us and them’ mentality,” Frank said.

He also emphasized the commercial benefit the event will have during a time when town is typically at 30 percent capacity, at most.

With the council’s blessing, the ISCO Snocross will come to town December 8-9, and be televised on CBS Sports Network. PJH

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