Snow King in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Struggles in Hard Times
he ski slope that rises up the mountain just off downtown, called Snow King, dates from the 1930s, when this corner of the West all but folded up in winter, isolated and dark, and local people needed something to do. Getting rich from the snows that fall early and deep on the edge of the Teton Range in western Wyoming did not factor in.
“It was never meant to make money,” said Bill Ashley, 89, who owned and ran the Snow King ski school for many years and met his wife, Mary, at the top of the mountain in the early 1950s. “It was meant to be for the town.”
The big ski areas that came later — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, half an hour into the Tetons, and Grand Targhee, an hour northwest — made winter tourism big business and Jackson Hole a winter destination.
But old Snow King, the first ski area in Wyoming and one of the oldest in the nation, soldiered on for the local residents, who could get in a run or two during lunch. The ski industry went upscale, and so did Jackson Hole, as the coastal glitterati came to nest in their humble ranchettes. But Snow King did not.
Now the question is resonating here and across ski country, from upstate New York to Montana, where local hills and communities are struggling in the face of changed times and economic stress. What place do ski hills like Snow King have in the modern world? What are they worth to a community or an economy? Has the chemistry between town and town hill been changed by tough times?