Snow King’s Exhibition Run
This ski run towers over downtown Jackson.
// By Maggie Theodora
Photo by Bradly J. Boner
The origins of the name of Snow King’s black diamond Exhibition run have been lost to history, but it’s easy to guess that it got its name because the people who ski down it are on full exhibition to anyone riding the lift up to the summit. The ski run exactly follows the path of the lift towers. This year, thanks to a new Summit Gondola, Exhibition-watching is easier than ever. Here are some of the things to look for on the run.
1. The upper one-third of the run, is rumored to be the steepest in-bounds north-facing ski run at any resort in North America. We were unable to fact-check this, but with sections that reach 45 degrees in pitch, we’re inclined to believe it.
2. Just completed in November (and not shown in this photo), the new eight-passenger Summit Gondola is the King’s first-ever detachable lift. Manufactured by Leitner-Poma, the new gondola ascends the length of Exhibition and takes about five minutes to climb the 1,547 vertical feet from the base area to the summit. Although the gondola has capacity for 49 cabins, the King is starting out with 24. “That will give it a capacity of about 1,000 people an hour,” says Ryan Stanley, general manager of Snow King Mountain Resort.
3. The World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb that happens annually in late March on Exhibition was the brainchild of David “Buck” Beckett, who passed away last summer. In the early 1970s, Beckett talked with then Snow King manager Jim Davison about ways to extend the snowmobiling season and do a fundraiser for the Van Vleck House, which provides prevention, early intervention, and treatment programs for Teton County youth. The two men came up with the idea of the Jackson Hole World Championship Hill Climb.
4. Exhibition didn’t exist when the first Summit Lift opened in 1947. It was the first single chairlift in Wyoming and had two stations below the summit where skiers could offload. “From the second station to the top of the mountain, it was a pretty narrow cut of timber,” says Tom Needham, who was born in 1951, started skiing at the King a couple of years later, and has been on the mountain’s ski patrol since 1985. “I don’t remember anyone skiing it.” In 1959, a double chairlift replaced the single chairlift. “They widened the cut at that point, and that’s when I would have skied it for the first time,” Needham says. The run was widened again in 1981, when a new Summit Lift was installed, and again this winter to accommodate the gondola.
5. “Next summer we’re going to put snowmaking on the western side of Exhibition,” says Stanley. “This will pretty much make it mandatory that we groom the whole run, to move the manmade snow around.” Due to the steepness of the run, this will be done by a groomer on a winch. “It’ll be a crazy run to groom,” Stanley says. “We already use winches to groom other runs, but I think this will still be the steepest.”
6. This year is the World Championship Hill Climb’s 45th anniversary (March 24–27, 2022). The event draws racers from across the country and challenges them to ride different classes of snowmobiles from the bottom of Exhibition to the top, negotiating slalom gates along the way. Last winter Montanan Keith Curtis was crowned King of Kings. Usually the King of Kings title is given after pitting the winners from the stock, improved stock, and modified classifications against each other. In 2021 this final race wasn’t required, though; Curtis won each of these classifications. As fast as the new Summit Gondola brings riders to the summit, Curtis is faster: in the modified King of Kings category, Curtis ascended the run in 1 minute 21.17 seconds.
7. “We don’t have a high accident rate up there,” patroller Needham says about Exhibition, even though the run is steep and can be mogul-y and pitted with exposed cliff bands (in low-snow years). “Most people who ski up there are good, competent skiers.” Needham guesstimates that, averaging the number of accidents he’s seen on Upper Exhibition it comes out to about one or two a year. But, when there is an accident, Needham says it can be a more serious injury. An anchor point on the summit allows patrollers to set up a belay to safely lower a rescue toboggan down the steepest part of the run.
8. Dick Pittman was a Snow King patroller who died in an avalanche in the area in 1964 at age 30. “I remember riding up the Summit Lift in junior high school and looking down and seeing Dick skiing [Exhibition],” says Needham. “He always had a full beard and skied in knickers so he was easy to spot, and he was an excellent skier, and that was on 1950s–’60s equipment, which wasn’t easy to ski. But he made it look so simple.”
9. As steep as Exhibition is to ski down, imagine hiking straight up it. Snow King allows skiers and snowboarders to go up the mountain. Most of these uphill travelers use specialized gear and climbing skins, which are affixed to the bases of skis and glide uphill but have a knap that prevents backward sliding, and ascend via the mountain’s switchbacking service road. Every day though, a handful of people strap their skis or snowboards to a backpack and hike straight up the ski run on a bootpack. The fastest booters can make it from the bottom to the top in less than 25 minutes. JH