Snow Way: Locals debate the future of Jackson’s eponymous ski hill

By on January 31, 2018

 

 

There are lots of different visions for this one little hill. (PHOTO: Planet Jackson Hole file)

A Monday evening meeting at Grand View Lodge turned into a debate about the future of Snow King Mountain. More than 200 people were in attendance at the meeting to discuss differing views on the direction of developments at the mountain.

The meeting was held by Colorado-based Peak Facilitation, a company that specializes in mediation and facilitation of stakeholder collaboration. Besides members of the public, the meeting also was attended by elected officials and representatives from Snow King.

At the meeting, the debate between those who favor broader economic development and those who prefer growth and development take a backseat to preservation of the environment came into sharp focus.

The plan for changes at Snow King originally introduced to the town council included a new gondola to replace the Summit Lift, a mountaintop restaurant and observatory as well as zip lines. That plan, and many components in it was met by resistance from some local citizens who favor a plan that would protect the natural environment.

One group of stakeholders in opposition to the plan — Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance — proposed by Snow King said on its website it was opposed to any plan where the mountain, “is covered in roller coasters, top-to-bottom noisy ziplines full of screaming people, and a massive restaurant complex on top of the mountain.”

The group also said it was opposed to developments that expanded the boundaries or operations of the hill into important wildlife habitat, or that would prevent local residents from using public lands for non-powered recreation.

On its website, the Conservation Alliance said it was focused on maintaining free, public access for residents and visitors, protecting wildlife and nature, not increasing noise or light pollution, maintaining public lands rather than selling to private developers and building housing for workers in the town to offset other commercial development.

Monday’s meeting started gently enough, but some time in it became a little more contentious — yet still polite — with supporters of expanded recreational opportunities on the hill and those who favored the recreational opportunities already afforded by the natural environment trading retorts.

Some attendees spoke out in support of expanding recreational opportunities at the hill for both winter and summer pastimes, including expanding opportunities for wheeled recreation, like snowmobiling and mountain biking. But others in attendance were quick to point out that expanding those types of activity might reduce quality of life because of noise and degradation of the town’s natural beauty.

Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance proposed ideas of its own it says would allow fair economic development without compromising on conservation of the environment and without drastically reducing quality of living in Jackson. It suggested nixing the mountaintop restaurant and observatory for smaller restaurant similar to the existing Panorama House. It also suggested replacing the proposed gondola with a covered quad lift. The group also suggested making new ski runs within the current footprint of the hill rather than expanding into land currently undeveloped.

The task of mediating between two very different viewpoints and coming up with a solution that ensures economic sustainability of the hill and that protects the natural splendor of the area will fall to a 16-member stakeholder group appointed by the town. Group members were in attendance at Monday’s meeting but did not speak out to voice any opinions or concerns, instead holding themselves to listen to concerns and ideas from other stakeholders in attendance.

In response to some comments at the meeting and some criticisms leveled in local media by another group, Jackson Hole Working, the Conservation Alliance issued a press release  reiterating its vision for the hill, and saying it was possible to arrive at a solution that allows the hill to thrive while protecting the town’s natural beauty.

Mark Barron of Jackson Hole Working was quoted by the Jackson Hole News&Guide saying the plan put forth by the conservation alliance showed a lack of understanding about the economic realities faced by the operators of the hill. According to its website, Jackson Hole Working is a group that “Is a community-driven movement that values the vibrant heart of downtown, a workforce housing market driven by the private sector, the protection of private property rights and the preservation of open spaces and wildlife corridors.”

Barron, a former mayor of Jackson, said the plan proposed by the Conservation Alliance would not allow the hill to be economically sustainable as a ski area.

In its release, the Conservation Alliance said it was difficult for the group to know what is economically feasible for the hill “without full transparency about their (the hill’s) financial situation. We should have a thorough discussion about the public subsidies they receive now and want in the future and the value of the public benefits they provide.”

The task of coming up with suggestions for future development at Snow King will be taken up by the stakeholder group, who will meet several times to consider the varied stakeholder positions and come up with suggestions to be made to the town council.

Those recommendations are slated to be made March 12. PJH

 


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