Five years ago the owners of Snow King Ski Resort in Jackson 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.”
Now, 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 town. So to save the place resort owners decided to double down on the only thing that was actually making money: warm weather activities. Right now Snow King is upgrading its alpine slide, building a roller coaster, a ropes course, and a new restaurant.
This kind of construction is pretty common right now, in Wyoming and nationwide. Snow King, along with many of Wyoming’s ski resorts and most of the busiest ski resorts in the country use public land. And in 2011 Wyoming senator John Barrasso helped get a bill passed that loosened federal regulations on what can be built on that land.
Nationally summer activities went from being eight percent of total ski resort revenue in 2009 to about 13 percent last year, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
Nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort gets a ton of winter visitors, but it’s also upping its summer game. I got to try out the new ropes course, which had me screaming like a baby.
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 this ropes course. She rated my performance, a “B minus.”
Michael Berry is the President of the National Ski Areas Association. He says ski resorts looking to summer activities is just solid business sense: it evens out their revenue stream and helps them keep quality employees who might otherwise move on after the snow melts.
“If you can employ them ten months a year, you have a much greater likelihood of building a permanent relationship with them,” he said.
The other motivation is changing climate patterns. Berry 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. Days open at California resorts fell by 12 percent.
Wyoming’s ski resorts--at least the majority that are clustered in the northwest part of the state--have had pretty good snow the last couple of years. Still, there’s no doubt that the recent snowless seasons out west have caught their attention.
“There is no doubt when you look at California this past year and other climatic--freak things going on, that you can’t depend on cold snowy days in the future,” said Snow King Manager Mike Stanley. “No matter what ski area you are at.”
Snow King’s new mountain roller coaster is set to open this August, while Jackson Hole Mountain resort’s drop tower, which is sort of like a giant bungee jump, should be open by early next season. The resorts say they want all the summer visitors they can get.
Even ones as uncoordinated as me.