Town, Snow King wrangle over lease agreements

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Snow King’s continued attempts to monetize nearly everything on the Town Hill finally hit palpable pushback from at least one councilor at a workshop Monday.

After getting the annual bill from Snow King for the lease of mountain top space for the telecommunications tower used by Public Works and START, councilman Jim Stanford voiced his objections at a town meeting November 6, asking staff to look into the lease town had with Snow King that rented them area at the base of the hill.

“I continue to object to the town having to pay $8,800 a year to Snow King when Snow King pays a hundred bucks a month for 30 acres,” Stanford said, referring to a $1,200-a-year lease agreement good through 2033. “It seems to me absurd to pay this sum of money for what should be a routine courtesy.”

The lease is one of two allowing Snow King the use of town land at the base of ski resort. Both have numerous addenda attached going back to 1972 when they were first drawn up. Most notable of the changes through the years is a “lifeline” thrown to then-owner Manuel Lopez who threatened in 2011 to shut down skiing on the mountain because of debt. The substantial reduction in rent had no end date but Stanford would like to see that contract renegotiated.

“With that act of extraordinary generosity on the part of the town, today we find ourselves in a much different scenario. Different owners, different revenue models, yet we are stuck in a lease that goes to 2023 or 2033 at a hundred bucks a month,” Stanford said. The councilman also alluded to some $3 million in public money subsidy the resort has enjoyed over the years, with less and less return.

Town attorney Audrey Cohen Davis said the contract could not be broken unless Snow King defaulted on its payments. Stanford, however, found a loophole.

The lease allowing Snow King to operate a tubing park could be terminated by either party with three-month’s notice. Stanford suggests the town should threaten to do so in order to force a renegotiation.

In addition to the lack of quid pro quo on the part of Snow King owners regarding leases each held, Stanford is irate over the resort’s plans to charge people $75 to skin up the hill.

Jeff Golightly, representing Max Chapman Jr., principal owner of Snow King, reminded the council that it costs money to groom the trails, make the snow, and employ ski patrol to keep it safe for all. He also pointed out that other resorts either do not allow uphill travel or charge separate for that outside of a season pass.

“It is shameful or patently absurd that they should be charged $75 to walk on public land that Snow King leases for a pittance,” Stanford said. He has further asked town legal experts whether the resort can indeed prohibit someone from traversing town-owned land.

The Conservation Alliance has also weighed in on the matter, expressing alarm over recent changes that deny public access or provide less benefit to the public.

Golightly says he welcomes a chance to talk about changes at the resort in a holistic and complete manner—sometime in January. He reiterated that, while the resort is no longer in a dire financial condition, it is still losing money. He also said the rate the town of Jackson is being charged for the cell tower use is far less than what could be charged and what is charged to other tenants.

Lastly, while addressing the council at the Monday workshop, Golightly paused and took a deep breath.

“This is really hard for me to say…” Golightly began, struggle for words. “Before I started working here I was warned that councilman Stanford has a personal vendetta against Snow King. I said, ‘That can’t be true.’ I’ve known him for 20-plus years. We have similar friends. My wife’s worked with you. But unfortunately I’ve noticed a pattern.

“[Look], I have no problem if people disagree. I think people disagree all the time for different reasons. We all do that. But at the conclusion of almost every meeting, for whatever reason, beyond disagreement there are things like, ‘we are disingenuous’ or ‘we are liars.’ The language that is used implies an intent that is not pure. It’s as though you somehow know the content of our heart. It is so difficult to sit there because it happens at the end after we sit down and we are defenseless. We can never respond. I’m never going to go into trying to evaluate the content of your heart. I will never call you dishonest. I ask you for the same thing.”

The exchange left councilman Don Frank calling the workshop a witch hunt and apologized to Golightly and Snow King GM Ryan Stanley. Frank also cautioned the resort on the uphill skiing fee, saying, “common western hospitality” should apply. “Never look a gift horse in the mouth. There is nobody in the community that wants to be charged to walk up a hill. I would consider that if I were Snow King,” he said.

The council did agree 4-1, with Bob Lenz opposed, to look into what legal actions the town might take in renegotiating leases it felt are unfair. They will talk about it again at a December 18 workshop.

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