Five years ago, the owners of Snow King Ski Resort in Jackson, WY, had a problem: business was terrible.
“They were looking to give the ski resort away to anyone who could keep it going,” resort manager Ryan Stanley told me. “And they couldn’t even put together a deal to give it away for free.”
Jackson is one of the best ski towns in the world, but Snow King was just a bit smaller and a bit plainer than the other ski resorts in the area. So to save the place, resort owners decided to double down on the only thing that was actually making money: warm weather activities.
Like many ski resorts, Snow King uses public land — in 2011, a law passed that loosened federal regulations that govern what can be built on that land. Now Snow King is building a roller coaster, a zip line, and a new restaurant.
The future site of Snow King’s mountain roller coaster.
“I hope that in three to five years, we can break even on our winter business,” Stanley says. “But in the summer, I’m hoping that we are making a lot of money.”
Snow King’s a scrappy little resort but it has had something in the winter season that other places lack: decent snow. A lot of its bigger competitors in states like, say, California, have not had so much of that lately.
Michael Berry is the President of the National Ski Areas Association. He says the average number of days open at ski resorts in the Pacific northwest fell by 30 percent last year from the year before for lack of snow. He says that California’s ski resorts saw their average days open fall by 12 percent.
“With the increased variability we need to guarantee we have diverse forms of revenue,” Berry says. “And summer provides us with that opportunity.”
Berry adds that summer activities are just solid business sense: it evens out a resort’s revenue stream, and helps keep quality employees who might otherwise move on after the snow melts.
That makes sense to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. It’s gotten good snow the last few seasons, but it’s still upping its summer game. The resort sees the most growth potential in the warmer months: mountain biking, for example, has grown ten percent a year here for the last five years.
Twelve-year-old Madeline Krampy is here from out of state. She and her family have come out the last two summers, lured by activities like a new ropes course. I tried it out, but Krampy wasn’t very impressed: she gave me a “B-.”
Still, this summer ski resorts want all the visitors they can get. Even ones as uncoordinated as me.
Reporter Miles Bryan works his way through the ropes course at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.