Snow King Moves Up: Inside Jackson, Wyo.’s Uphill Movement

To the uninitiated, the towering peaks of the Teton Range and the big red box at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort might seem to encompass all ski life and culture in the town of Jackson, Wyoming. But for residents, an integral part of life is the relatively tiny but beloved Snow King Mountain, which rises right over the center of town.

Snow King—known as “the King,” or the town hill—isn’t the reason people move to Jackson, but once they settle in, it often becomes a big part of life. The lift access is important, but where Snow King truly shines is in its extremely lenient uphill policy: three designated uphill routes during operating hours, and dogs allowed whenever the lifts are not spinning. Yet, increasing uphill pressure has put the issue in the hot seat in Jackson this season.

Snow King Mountain by dusk. [Photo] Marco Antonio Torres

Snow King Mountain by dusk. [Photo] Marco Antonio Torres

Skiers flock to Snow King’s uphill access in ever greater numbers each season to work on fitness for larger skiing objectives, to get out in a controlled environment when backcountry danger is elevated or to learn how to use the gear and practice uphill techniques.

That continued growth in uphill traffic has spurred the King, which first opened in 1936, to change with the times and enforce new regulations.

As of January 1, skinners must display a free-of-charge uphill pass, indicating at a glance to ski patrol that they’ve signed an agreement and understand the uphill routes and policies.

“We’ve always had uphill travel, but now there are so many more people, many of whom don’t know the safe routes or the rules, and the number of interactions between uphill and downhill skiers, and even ski hill operations, is increasing,” says Adrienne Kirkwood, a pro patroller at Snow King since 2006. “A few incidents last year made it clear we needed to implement some more structure in the policy.”

Zahan Billimoria is an Exum mountain guide and one of the many uphill skiers that use the King’s easily accessed, relatively safe slopes as a way to stay super fit for big objectives. And he supports the change to a pass and a signed agreement. “It’s a necessary step [for Snow King],” he says. “Setting parameters makes sense, as uphill skiers need to recognize that, although there are not the same hazards as in the backcountry, there are operational hazards, and you do need to be respectful of the ski hill operation.”

The official word. [Image] Courtesy Snow King Mountain

The official word. [Image] Courtesy Snow King Mountain

While Kirkwood says most uphillers are considerate and respectful of being allowed to climb the King, about ten percent of uphill skiers cause problems for other skiers and for ski patrol, taking time and resources away from ski patrol duties on the ski hill.

“People just feel it is their right to be on the hill and treat it like a town park instead of an operating ski area. It’s great that people enjoy it so much, and as long as people do the right thing and follow the rules, we welcome uphill travel,” she says. “I think the publicity of the pass is helping people realize that it is privilege and not a right, and how to be a considerate uphill skier—and most people do want to be on board with that.” The pass, she adds, gives patrol an avenue to eject unruly or troublesome uphillers from the ski area.

“It is a safety and a financial issue that people understand the uphill routes, and the risks of skiing on a operating ski hill,” says Keely Herron, marketing director at Snow King Mountain. “We don’t want Joe skier toodling up and down the piste, cluelessly interfering with a winch cat or getting severely injured by a snapping winch cable, or just skinning on an unsafe uphill route.

“Our ski patrol spends a lot of time monitoring the safety of uphill and downhill traffic, and moving forward, if you want to skin and ski on a maintained run—that costs money to maintain—that is a privilege.”

The right way up. [Photo] Brigid Mander

The right way up. [Photo] Brigid Mander

Among most skiers, the measure has seen broad support, and more than 1,000 uphill passes have been picked up by local skiers.

“I think that Snow King is striking a pretty good balance. The waiver is good idea, in case someone gets run over by a snowcat,” says Frederick Reimers, a writer who often skins the King during busy work days. “It’s making people aware of the hazards, and hopefully will encourage better behavior overall.”

For more on Snow King’s uphill policy, visit

From March 7-8, join the editors of Backcountry Magazine at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for the GORE-TEX Backcountry Basecamp Tour, presented by Voilé, Marmot and AIARE. All weekend, Backcountry Magazine staff will showcase the newest backcountry equipment, AIARE educators will conduct demos and classes, and Jackson Hole Guides will take visitors on complimentary backcountry tours. For more on the event, including the party and raffle to benefit Teton County Search and Rescue, visit

Related posts:

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.