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Snow King eligible for listing as National Historic Place

Mar 25, 2012 - The Associated Press

JACKSON (AP) -- The cable used for the frst rope tow on Snow King was purchased from an oil drilling company in Casper and ran through a narrow cut in the forest up the west side of the ski area.

Opened in 1939, the Old Man's Flats rope tow was powered by an old Ford tractor and could carry 18 to 20 people at a time. Skiers would attach themselves to the cable with metal clamps and ropes and hold on for the eight-minute ride up the mountain.

That is just one of many facts and stories in a recently released report prepared for the Teton County Historic Preservation Board that found the Snow King ski area is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The report, titled "Jackson's Town Hill: Snow King Ski Area," concluded the property qualifes as a "cultural landscape," with historical significance for the region dating back to the 1930s.

"The actual landscape of the mountain as it towers above Jackson Hole has been the same since the ski area was developed," said Mary Humstone, a consultant who prepared the report. "It's so much a part of the image and culture of Jackson Hole."

The National Register of Historic Places, a program of the National Park Service, is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Since its inception in 1966, more than 80,000 properties have been listed.

Properties listed in Teton County include Town Square, St. John's Episcopal Church and Rectory and The Wort Hotel,

The historic preservation board commissioned the study of Snow King to understand the ski area's historic significance at an uncertain time for the property. Snow King Resort has been in talks with a potential buyer for several months.

"One of the board's responsibilities is to inventory historic resources," said board member Sara Adamson. "We prioritized the report on Snow King because it has been in the news and is on the market. We wanted to keep ourselves informed of what was left that is historic." As owner of the property, the resort will have to decide if it wants to apply for a listing. Snow King managing partner Manuel Lopez said the "whole idea is very flattering" but he has questions about how a listing could affect the property.

Listing in the register is generally "honorific" and doesn't preclude a property owner from making changes, Adamson said.

In her research, Humstone uncovered a wealth of information that she says illustrates the town's intimate connection with Snow King and the hill's central role in Jackson Hole history.

Starting in the 1920s, skiers began hiking up the mountain -- sometimes called Kelly's Hill or simply the Town Hill -- to enjoy its steep downhill, a 1,571-foot drop at its highest point. The first ski jump was built in 1926, and the ski area was named Snow King in 1938.

"Everybody around here in the early '30s was just going to the top of the hill and going straight down and trusting to a bit of ability and a heck of a lot of luck," said Neil Rafferty, who managed Snow King for years, according to the report. "Or they were building a jump somewhere and trying to ride over it. Jumping was a big kick then."

As the hill was built out over time, with the first chairlift opening in 1947 and the Cougar lift in 1994, the ski slopes and trails became character-defining features of the mountain and of Jackson Hole.

In addition, the Town Hill has for generations helped to foster a community culture built around the enjoyment of winter sports, the report states, as well as serving as the occasional "baby sitter of choice."

"(Snow King) was really a success because it was right there," said Virginia Huidekoper, who helped found the Jackson Hole Winter Sports Association.

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