GET OUT: Get out, go back

By on December 17, 2013
First Snow King Mountain Resort ski school. Photo: Courtesy of Snow King
First Snow King Mountain Resort ski school. Photo: Courtesy of Snow King

First Snow King Mountain Resort ski school. Photo: Courtesy of Snow King

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – I remember my first run on Snow King. I grew up skiing back east on total crap snow. Ice really. It was a frigid morning, and it hadn’t snowed for weeks. The conditions reminded me of Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid – a hill the locals referred to as “Iceface.”

Not ready for Upper Exhibition or Bearcat, I hung a left off the Summit chairlift and tracked along the ridge line looking for something challenging but not breakneck. Elk was perfect, and I slid down into the wide field of moguls. After a few warmup bumps, I picked up enough speed to sail through Lower Elk and hit Old Man’s Flats like Franz Klammer rocketing through the Streif.

Jump Run did not yet have its built up kicker. That’s OK, it was all a blur anyway, and I probably would have bought it with the speed I was carrying that morning. It was an epic run: short and fast. The best part was, and still is, throwing a “hockey stop” snow plume at the lift line and gliding right into a waiting chair. I got in, like, eight runs in one hour. “I love this place,” I thought.

Back in the day
They called it Kelly’s Hill back in the day. Or simply “the town hill.” By the 1920s, skiers were hiking up Snow King and schussing down. Thanks to a forest fire in 1879, the heavily-wooded south slope of the King made for a perfect downhill ski area – steep but doable.

Soon, a guy named Fred Brown became the mountain’s unofficial ambassador by organizing ski demonstrations including the Dartmouth Ski Team and a group of ruffians named the Hoback Boys. Brown was the first person to ski Rendezvous, incidentally. He would later go on to be named president of the first ski club and helped form the Jackson Hole Ski Association.

Neil Rafferty was also instrumental in promoting skiing in Jackson. Sometimes known as the Father of Snow King, Rafferty would hike up Old Man’s Flats and ski down. In 1939, he convinced the Jackson Hole Club (a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce) to let him install a tow rope.

Rafferty bought the cable used from an oil drilling company in Casper and powered it with an old Ford tractor. He ran that lift until 1946 when the resort was taken over by the Jackson Hole Winter Sports Association and a new $40,000 chairlift was installed. That lift was replaced in 1959.

Western Standard Corporation of Riverton bought the ski operation in 1971 and began work on the hotel and convention center. It was originally a Ramada when it opened in 1976. Manuel Lopez took over in 1979, a year after the Alpine Slide was put in to attract summer tourist business.

The lodging portion was sold last year to JMI Equity leaving the ski area of the resort as its own business entity.

75 years and counting
This winter, Snow King celebrates its 75th anniversary complete with its own beer courtesy of local brewer Snake River Brewing. The convention center also boasts a heavily-used sheet of ice which plays host to a local hockey team and numerous figure skating events. Tube park is a welcome addition and plans for a zipline and downhill mountain bike trail system are in the works.

It’s a long winter and places like Snow King help pass the months. Whether you have a free weekend or an hour for lunch, the Kinger waits for you.

About Jake Nichols

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