Letter to the Editor: Have a say in the King’s future

By on December 31, 2014


Jackson Hole, Wyoming – I know that everyone would like to see Snow King thrive and I know that the King has the potential to set an example for other town hills. But as a former employee, direct neighbor, and daily user, I am well aware that the shareholders have neglected our ski area. The owners of this mountain have not been involved in mountain operations. During Manuel Lopez’s tenure, he placed focus on hotel operations. He wasn’t much of a skier. Max Chapman has been a shareholder since 1992, but has not been visible or vocal until November, when he announced that he was buying out Lopez and working with new investors to fund $8 million in improvements. These improvements were said to be for private lands only, and they had their “minor development plan” approved following a November Jackson Town Council meeting. This meeting included the only hour when public comment was considered. Currently, there are two major projects on public lands under review by the USFS under the guise of “categorical exclusion,” which is for projects less than five acres. This means the projects are absolved from following the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act. I don’t understand how this is even legal.

Included in one of the projects is extending the Rafferty Chairlift 400 vertical feet and about 1,000 feet into the forest. This will have major impacts that will extend beyond “1.2 acres of clearcut liftline and 3.8 acres of clearcut trails.” This provides access to way more terrain than two intermediate trails; people will be going deep outside of the current SUP area since the top terminal is slated to be right next to this unmarked boundary line.

This is definitely not worthy of the “categorical exclusion” exemption rule for projects under five acres, especially when there are so many future plans – which was also one of my concerns about the 5.6- acre ropes course that is still under review for “categorical exclusion.” These sites border each other and are well more than 10.6 acres. SKMR LLC should follow the rules instead of trying to fast track both of these developments at once.

This lift is being positioned to this site for phase one of a plan to build “intermediate ski terrain” throughout the dense forests and habitat far east of the current terrain. There is another quad lift planned for the far east area if they are allowed to expand their SUP area. The GM’s plan is to build a whole new road that goes far east as well, all the way to the power lines and then back across below the S chutes. SKMR has strategically left the road out of the plans for phase one, and they also claim that there will be no snowmaking or lighting either, though these things seem necessary. The lift is also supposed to be a “top driven” lift for unknown reasons. Maybe there are sensitive humans at the base? What I do know is that this area is home to mule deer, moose, fox and much more, including sensitive species such as owls and the northern flying squirrel. Mountain lions also prey on deer in this area, as evidenced by the bones that can be found here.

I enjoy these public lands as they foster myriad forms of recreation. But I cannot find reason to trust SKMR LLC (or any ropes course concession) to be good stewards of any new lands. Next spring they may be doing a lot of construction clearing lands and building this chairlift and possibly the ropes course. Our public lands will be impacted enough that any future environmental analysis would have untrue data due to this destruction and increased use. SKMR LLC knows that their best hope to expand is to do this in piecemeal fashion and Chapman told me personally how excited he is for this expansion after the November Town Council meeting. As a neighbor, daily user, and former employee, I know for a fact that this intelligent man is oblivious to the priorities of the ski area and the sentiments of locals.

Besides these public lands projects, other rumors for the base area private lands range from new buildings to parking garages to senior homes to movie theatres to a new ice rink and no more old cabin near the hotel. And of course the mountain coaster and hefty projects like these were supposed to have public comment, as stated by the “rules” set forth by our Land Development Regulations.

SKMR LLC should follow the correct procedures and not bend them or break them. Our Town Council and County Commissioners have not set a good example with the recent “minor development plan” and also allowing variances to the proposed Marriott and the JHMR housing, as well as the Puzzleface Ranch home and the short term rentals at Shooting Star. Now I can only hope that the United States Forest Service sticks to its motto of “caring for the land and serving people.”

Please notify our mayor, town council, county commissioners, U.S. Forest Service representatives and the shareholders of SKMR LLC that we will not tolerate being ignored and left out of the Town Hill and other pressing issues that impact our town’s housing and workforce, as well as wildlife and community character.

Comments to USFS concerning Snow King’s lift replacement and ski trails are due by January 12. Email your comments to comments-intermtn-bridger-teton-jackson@fs.fed.us.

About Shane Rothman

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