Town Hill Upgrade: Gondola OK'd For Snow King
The Jackson, Wyo., town council has given the owners of Snow King Mountain what is believed to be the first gondola installed on a local "town hill" in the United States
The action is seen as a way to keep the 400-acre ski and snowboard hill economically viable in an industry that is dominated by large, all-season resorts like nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. With 1,500 vertical and three lifts, the mountain looms over a town park and is partly owned by private concerns, the town, and the federal national forest.
The gondola will replace the 40-year-old Summit chairlift and force the relocation of the Cougar lift up the hill about 250 feet. Plus, the location of the gondola's loading terminal will displace a public baseball field in the park. The plan took several years to iron out, particularly because the project involves realigning the town-owned Phil Baux Park in a thickly settled area on the south edge of Jackson, population 10,000.
In the past, GM Ryan Stanley has said that Snow King must expand its winter operations in order to survive. "Snow King's really been a ski area that's actually made its money in the summer and lost its money the rest of the year," Stanley told local media in 2018. "And so we're trying to figure out how to turn that around. So we've currently figured out how to have a bit of a successful summer season for three months and we need to figure out how to turn the wintertime around."
In a separate council session, a zipline was approved as part of a $26 million plan to upgrade the area in and around the mountain, including a planetarium and mountain sports complex.
Many of Jackson’s locals cut their skiing teeth on Snow King Mountain. The first lift began in 1939 under the ownership of local Neil Rafferty. The mountain offers low-priced tickets, including a three-hour pass aimed for people after work, and night skiing.
Town hills across the West - so-called because they are close to a town and provide low-cost after-work or weekend skiing and riding - have struggled during industry consolidation and rising operating costs. In Wyoming, Hogadon Basin Ski Area in Casper has periodically closed because of lack of financing, as has Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park in eastern Washington.
Colorado has a string of town hills that are open, including Kendall Mountain in Silverton, Lee's Hill in Ouray, Cranor in Gunnison, Lake City Hill, Howelson Hill in Steamboat Springs, and Chapman Hill in Durango.