Local Life: Anatomy Of

Snow King’s Expansion

// By Dina Mishev

After years of planning, Snow King is heading into its second, and last, summer of construction, adding facilities, activities, and amenities to the Town Hill. Most of these are concentrated at the resort’s 7,808-foot-high summit. Here’s the breakdown.

“You can go 60 miles an hour under the right conditions,” says Ryan Stanley, Snow King’s mountain manager about the resort’s new Zip Line. “It is the steepest zip line in North America.” Almost 3,000 feet long and with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet, the zip line’s average grade is 36 percent. “But that’s the average,” says Stanley, who was among the zip line testers last fall. “It definitely gets steeper than that.”

The Alpine Slide, which has wound, unchanged, down Snow King’s lower eastern slopes since 1978, is going underground. So that the new summit road can connect to both base areas, a portion of the Alpine Slide will be routed through a 200-foot-long tunnel that is seven feet in diameter. “It will make it a different experience for sure,” Stanley says.

Opened last December, the new eight-passenger Summit Gondola ascends the 1,547 vertical feet from the King’s main base area to the summit in about five minutes.

This summer, a new road built last summer from the mid station of the Rafferty ski lift to the summit will be extended to both base areas. The new sections of road will allow beginning skiers to lap the gondola, Stanley says. (The stretch of road built last summer was a favorite ski run with beginners last winter; it’s called “Way Home.”) In summer, it will also allow for a much-less-steep hike to the summit than any prior routes on the mountain.

Early this summer, about one-third of the King’s parking lot was ripped up and replaced by grass. “The idea is to have the ball fields connect to Phil Baux Park via green space,” Stanley says.

There’s a Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed log cabin tucked into aspen trees between the top of the gondola and where the observatory will be. “It was built when they were doing trail work in the area in the late 1930s,” Stanley says. The cabin is in a pretty serious state of disrepair now but will eventually be shored up, although it’s unlikely that it will be a historic-preservation project. “The effort it would take to restore it following [National Park Service] standards would be fairly heroic,” Stanley says. “It would be cool to do something like that, but that’s not the plan right now.”

To be finished next summer, a new observatory on the south side of the summit will have a 24-foot AstroHaven dome and a telescope with a 1.0-meter mirror. “This will be one of the largest state-of-the-art telescopes in the world dedicated primarily to public outreach,” says Dr. Samuel Singer, the founder of Wyoming Stargazing, which will partner with Snow King to offer educational programs at the observatory. (Most telescopes of this size and caliber are used for research.) “With the large size and research-grade optics, the telescope on Snow King will allow Wyoming Stargazing to blow people’s minds with what they will see—stunning details in the sweeping arms of spiral galaxies, exquisite cloud layers in the atmosphere of Jupiter, gaps between the rings of Saturn, and the Moon like they have never imagined it before.” The observatory will also have a 30-seat planetarium with an eight-meter dome onto which can be projected real-time images from the telescope.

An ADA trail will be built from the top of the gondola to the new observatory. “We want as many people as possible to experience what will be an amazing activity,” Stanley says.

There are no plans to demolish the Panorama House, which, since the 1960s, has offered snacks and refuge from the elements (but no bathrooms or running water). This summer it serves beer, wine, an assortment of snacks, fresh-made sweet and savory crepes, and, during the peak months, BBQ.

Last summer, construction of a new 10,000-square-foot summit lodge got as far as its foundation being poured. The idea is to finish the space, which includes an area for the maintenance of gondola cars, a coffee shop, ski patrol base, a rental shop, and ski school on its ground floor; a restaurant with a 5,000-square-foot deck (that looks out on the Tetons) on the second floor; and a rooftop deck at least as big as the one below it. This building also includes bathrooms with flush toilets and running water, a first for the King’s summit. 

Snowmaking, sewer, and gas lines will be installed on looker’s right of the Exhibition run this summer. This means that the challenging hike up the Bootpack trail is closed, but that next winter all eight snowmaking guns on the backside of the mountain can be used. (Last winter, the mountain could only pump enough water to that area to run three guns.) Also, for the first time in its history, Snow King will be able to make snow all the way down Exhibition. “That’s something we’ve talked about for years,” Stanley says. JH

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