A zip line. A massive summit restaurant and reception center. Mountain bike trails through elk, moose and deer habitat. Magic carpet conveyers. A longer and wider summit access road. A gondola lift in the middle of our public Phil Baux Park.
And, on our public lands, on a mountain owned by you, me and everyone else we know that tops out at 7,808 feet and that averages 167 inches of snow a year, a new ski lift on the backside to service the south-facing, windswept slopes of sagebrush that descend into the wildlife corridor of Leeks Canyon.
Well done, United States Forest Service. Bravo, elected officials. You have imperiled the character of our valley, threatening our legacy as the crucible of conservation in the process.
Like so many others in our community, I love Snow King Mountain. Whether it’s heading up the bootpack for a quick winter excursion, walking up the service road with a friend for a lunchtime break, or just socializing at the People’s Market, I always return from outings to our local hill better than when I embarked.
I often go there to boulder. One of the proudest moments of my life was coordinating the Teton Boulder Project. I’m proud not out of some distorted sense of self, but because I know the resulting Teton Boulder Park will outlive me. Long after I’m dust, the park will continue to bring joy and happiness to the people who gather there to climb. For the chance to step into our community’s history and heritage in that small, simple way, I’ll be forever grateful.
In short, nothing represents my passion for our community more than Snow King Mountain—and nothing saddens me more than the seismic real-estate development that appears to be its imminent future.
Let’s be honest. Snow King will never be a destination ski area. Climate change is pushing back the start of snowmaking later into November every year. Its frigid northern flanks are lost in shade until Valentine’s Day, its scratchy slopes are the closest thing we have to an Eastern skiing experience this side of Hunter Mountain, and for visitors it will always be the homely cousin to the twinkling glamor of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
But for locals, Snow King Mountain is our Town Hill, a singular treasure, right in the middle of town, that offers an unpretentious reminder of why we live here, every day of the year. There’s nothing better.
The development entitlements the United States Forest Service and the Jackson Town Council have granted Snow King guarantee two things. One, the mountain’s resale value is now at an all-time high. Two, it’s a real estate play, a Park City waiting to happen. And the resulting real estate developments will drive up our property taxes, distort our community character, displace community members, and create additional stress on our wildlife, traffic and water infrastructure.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Led by Max Chapman, the current owners have done a phenomenal job of securing the approval to develop a full-blown resort; it just happens to be in a wildly inappropriate location that conflicts with our community’s longterm interests. One thing’s for certain: they have a clear vision for our Town Hill.
I, for one, believe this precious mountain should be a testament to more than just making money. I believe it should be a testament to our love for our Valley.
Our community rallied to Save the Block, working with Mr. Chapman, the Jackson Hole Land Trust and a number of visionary donors to preserve an historic part of downtown in perpetuity. Their effort not only stepped proudly into the conservation legacy of this community; it also stopped the development of a 90,000-square-foot hotel that would have created some 100 new jobs while providing a fraction of the housing to accompany it. For this bold, philanthropic act, we are forever in their debt.
Buying Snow King won’t be cheap; the incredible array of development approvals secured by its owners have seen to that. But with the sale of the Block, Mr. Chapman demonstrated a willingness to accommodate the common good, going so far as to drop the price by $1 million when he saw the community step up.
Now, it’s time to work with him again and rally the community in a similar fashion to buy our Town Hill.
And what an incredible opportunity buying Snow King represents!
In 1927, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., established The Snake River Land Company to buy up lands in the Jackson Hole valley. In 1943, 221,000 of those acres became part of the Jackson Hole National Monument by presidential decree. Seven years later, the Monument was absorbed into the reason many of us live here today: Grand Teton National Park.
Buying Snow King is our Rockefeller moment. Those in a position to do so can borrow a page from John D.s’ playbook and lay the financial foundation for the purchase (with more transparency and less acrimony than he did). Doing so will forever enshrine them in the pantheon of conservation legends that have protected this incredible ecosystem since 1872, when Yellowstone became the world’s first national park.
Local community members can become part of this same conservation legacy by purchasing lifetime memberships. Local businesses could purchase seasonal sponsorships to create additional revenue streams for the mountain’s upkeep. Once under local control, Snow King could advance Jackson Hole’s conservation legacy one step further by becoming home to our version of the Aspen Institute: a community-centric campus for conservation and sustainability that models a balanced relationship between the built and natural environments, with implications for the entire planet.
Jackson Hole is a place of great wonder. It attracts millions of people each year who seek proximity to its singular nature. This is the direct result of past generations who were so inspired by this place that they rose to the occasion to protect it.
Buying Snow King represents a unique opportunity. Not only will we avoid creating a mountainside village of One Town Hills that distorts our community into something that more closely resembles Gatlinberg, Tennessee than the town we know and love. We will preserve our local hill for this and future generations to enjoy, reinterpreting our legacy as the crucible of conservation in a manner that will stand as a pivotal moment in our Valley’s evolution.
As Jackson Hole wildlife biologist Olaus Murie used to say, “It’s going to take all of us to do it.” With Save the Block as well as a $5 million donation to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mr. Chapman has a demonstrated record of philanthropy that makes a community minded sale feasible.
Could Max Chapman be our generation’s John D. Rockefeller, Jr.?
Now’s the time to begin a crowdfunding campaign, work with Mr. Chapman to buy our Town Hill and step proudly into our conservation legacy while we still have the chance to do so.
And Mr. Chapman, will you help write the next chapter in our legacy as the Crucible of Conservation?
If the long term sustainability of our ecosystem and community matters to you, please vote for Christian Beckwith for Teton County Commission. You may learn more about his candidacy and positions at www.christianbeckwith.com.