A state program designed to
promote economic development could potentially provide financial
assistance for construction of a new tram, Governor Freudenthal said
House bill 264, known as the Business Ready Communities Act, was signed
into law in 2003 and designed to promote economic health at the city,
town and county level. According to the text of the bill, communities
can apply for grants and loans related to economic development
infrastructure, but projects "shall not include rehabilitation or
expansion of infrastructure unless the applicant demonstrates that the
rehabilitation or expansion is necessary to retain an existing business
or facilitate the relocation of a business to the locality of the
An amendment to the bill introduced by senator Grant Larson and former
Representative Clarene Law expanded the act to include recreational and
resort facilities. The state loan and investment board has final
approval on any applications made under the act.
"That's the only legal vehicle I can think of right now, but it's only
been receiving about $15 million per year right now," the governor said
during his weekly teleconference.
Freudenthal said he was telephoned by resort officials when the
decision to close the tram was announced, but the question of possible
state assistance was not raised at the time.
"It is clearly part of a shared experiential base for visitors to
Jackson," the governor said. "Everyone in the state has a story about
the first time they rode the tram and what they saw up there. Some
things become icons in the state."
Ted Ladd, a member of the Wyoming Business Council, said that he was
uncertain of the business council would be willing to lend support to
financing of a new tram and he wouldn't presume to speak for the board.
He said he could not tell whether there would be resistance from
elswhere in Wyoming to the idea of assisting Teton County with
Others in Wyoming sometimes characterize Teton County as so wealthy it deserves little or no help from the state.
Ladd noted that the Business council recently recommended, and the
State Lands and Investment Board approved, $1.8 million in grants for
the town of Jackson to construct a parking garage that would promote
development downtown. He said if there was any resistence to that
request for funds, he was unaware of it.
The governor said that additional study would be needed to gauge the
fiscal effect closing the tram might have on Wyoming's tourism economy.
Tram on the Ropes By Michael Pearlman
(Wednesday June 29, Jackson Hole News and Guide) - Friday's
announcement by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort officials that the
resort's aerial tram will be permanently shut down in 2006 has sent
shockwaves through the community.
Though rumors of lingering mechanical problems with the 39-year-old
lift have been circulating for months, the news and timing of the
announcement have surprised many. With initial estimates pegging the
cost of constructing a new tram at $20 million, the resort announced it
will require outside financial support to pay for a replacement.
The decision to shut down the tram means there will be no lift access
to the top of Rendezvous Mountain unless a replacement plan is hatched
before the winter of 2006-07. Resort president Jerry Blann said Friday
no such plan is in place.
That means after next winter skiers and snowboarders would have no
access, other than hiking, to famous runs like Rendezvous Bowl and
Corbet's Couloir, the world-famous chute that drops skiers into space
near the summit of the ski area.
In the days since the story broke, emotions among valley residents have
run high. Some residents questioned whether resort officials simply
failed to address a looming problem. Critics wondered whether the tram
announcement was some lever to influence approval of Teton Village
expansion being considered by county commissioners. Others asked if the
resort has wrongly chosen to invest in other capital projects that
would address the needs of the resort's more well-heeled visitors.
"This is a ski town but it's turned into a real estate market in the
last few years," said Russell Austin, who's been skiing in Teton
Village for 13 years. "The focus isn't where it should be."
The aerial tram has been inextricably linked to the resort's identity,
and the 4,139 vertical feet of skiing accessed by the lift was the
source of the resort's original marketing campaign. For many
passholders and regular visitors, the aerial tram is the only lift they
Bob Graham, president of Real Estate of Jackson Hole and a Jackson Hole
Mountain Resort stockholder, said that while he recognizes how critical
the tram is to the mountain, financial realities make some type of
public and private partnership necessary to restore lift service to the
top of Rendezvous Mountain.
"From my standpoint, we need to come up with some solution, whether
it's a combined solution with the Ski Corporation, some other entity or
the State of Wyoming giving some support," he said. "I have every
confidence the ski corp will do whatever they can to get it resolved.
Spending $20 million on a tram that is not the most efficient carrier
of skiers it's a no-brainer that we can't do this alone."
The tram closure announcement will have little effect on Teton Village
real estate values, said Graham, whose company holds the franchise to
market Mountain Resort property.
"If it does [have an effect], it's only minimally," he said.
Resort spokeswoman Anna Olson stressed that the decision to shut down
the tram was a difficult one for the resort's board of directors to
make, and she emphasized that the resort's preference is to construct a
"We know how important the tram is and it's hard to put into words how
emotional a decision this has been," Olson said. "The business decision
to close the current tram was based around not wanting to compromise
safety. It's desirable to get a new tram back here and we know that."
The decision to retire the resort's most famous lift at the end of the
summer 2006 season was the culmination of more than a year of studies
and careful analysis by experts. Approximately 18 months ago, resort
officials decided to commission an engineering study of the entire
lift, including a study of the track cables that support the carriage
which holds the cars. A separate set of cables, the haul cables, pull
the tram up the mountain and were replaced in 1998. Studies of the tram
conducted by tram engineering firm Doppelmayer-CTEC were followed up
with an analysis of Doppelmayer's data, conducted by Jim Fletcher of
the Parametrix engineering firm.
Fletcher informed resort officials that the track ropes would need to
be replaced at a cost of several million dollars, but couldn't
guarantee that the work wouldn't impact other parts of the tram or
increase its lifespan.
"Effectively, they were saying if you go this route, we can't guarantee
you the long-term future of the tram," Olson said. "We had to wait
until all the information was in to analyze our options, but that
information has been coming in piecemeal over the past 12 months."
The Mountain Resort would not release the engineering documents.
"Our owners knew the tram was going to require closing down in the
future, and we didn't want to be second-guessed on safety," she said.
"They chose a route that to some people was hard to consider. In an
ideal world, we would want more than a year, but our stance is to be
proactive on this and start working towards a solution when we can get
Olson said the decision to retire the tram had no connection to the
Snake River Associates proposal to expand Teton Village, a development
the resort supports. Company officials expected a decision on the SRA
plan in May, while the tram decision was reached on June 22.
"We came public with this because we knew there was misinformation and
rumors about the tram and we wanted to address that community issue,"
The resort's decision to emphasize safety was praised by Bridger-Teton National Forest Jackson District Ranger Nancy Hall.
"I believe they're being proactive in trying to figure out a short- and
long-term objective to move the public along that side of the
mountain," Hall said. "I actually applaud them for taking into account
public safety issues."
Hall said the tram had passed all its most recent inspections required
by the government. The tram is constructed on public land that is part
of the Bridger-Teton, and the resort operates under a special-use
Constructed over a 24-month period between 1964 and 1966, the original
budget for the tram was $1.6 million. Construction delays pushed the
final cost to $2.5 million. The Jackson Hole Ski Corporation, precursor
to the Mountain Resort, had to pay only a third of the final price,
with the extra cost borne by the construction and bond companies.
To help pay for the project, ski area developers Paul McCollister and
Alex Morley received $975,0000 from the Area Redevelopment
Administration, a federal government program that loaned funds to
depressed communities that relied on seasonal economies. At the time,
employment in Jackson during the winter was practically nonexistent.
The decision to shut down the icon that the resort has based its
reputation on has been met with an avalanche of questions. Many see the
announcement as just another example of the resort moving away from its
original market of hardcore skiers and toward a more family-friendly
"There's nothing good that can come out of losing the tram," said Jason
Tattersall, who has been skiing in Teton Village for 15 years. "It's a
skiers hill. It doesn't matter what you put at the bottom of the
David Gonzalez, author of a comprehensive history of the resort,
Jackson Hole on a grand scale, believes that when push comes to shove,
the resort will find a way to build a new and better tram. He
speculated that the announcement was one way to gauge the community's
affection for the famous lift.
"Them threatening to take away the tram is akin to taking away a
child's toy just to see how loudly the child screams," he said. "That
would allow them to see how important the tram is to this business, and
they'd replace it as I'd expect they're going to. They've enjoyed the
publicity of having the best backcountry access in the lower 48 states.
Every ski writer who comes to Jackson Hole starts their story by
talking about the tram line."
Olson denied that the resort is ignoring its hardcore skiing clientele.
"Our owners and management recognize we have extreme, rugged terrain
that appeals to hardcore skiers," Olson said. "That's who we are and
who we'll continue to be."
Recent capital improvement projects such as the new Sweetwater
chairlift and the start of construction of the Bridger restaurant are
upgrades driven by market research and have been needed for years, she
"Our owners are broad in their vision," she said. The $55 million the
Kemmerers have invested in the resort since 1992 was an effort to
"speak to the needs of all our guests.
"Just because the tram has come to a head doesn't mean that all the
other planning and development is going to be put on hold," she said.
"These can run together and we can resolve the replacement of the tram
and continue with these other improvements, which are improvements to
our overall product."
When the resort announced the closure, officials said they would be
investigating all sources of funding to offset the cost of replacing
"We will need to have the support of the public and possibly the state
to be able to move forward with a tram replacement alternative,"
president Blann said at a press conference.
The resort has no presumption that financial assistance will be coming
from outside sources, Olson said. There is a precedent in other cities
and communities that have created public/private partnerships.
"We can't afford to [finance construction] as a business, but the
impact of just saying that resonates across the state from a business
sense," she said. "That's the basis of the dialogue we hope to open
here to try and realize what can be achieved with outside help when
the impact of not having a tram reaches across the state. Nothing here
is presumed, but that doesn't mean we can't go out and initiate
discussions and look at what realities, practicalities and options are
available just like other businesses across the state do."
Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce president Steve Duerr said that the
chamber hasn't been approached yet to take a position on the issue of
public funding, but he praised resort officials for beginning a
dialogue this far in advance.
"I think that it's useful that we've gotten notice so far in advance so
people can start thinking about it," he said. "I also appreciate that
they're concerned about safety and want to make changes before there's
a problem. The tram's been an important part of the community for its
useful life. All good things come to an end and times change, and we'll
have to figure out what that means."
The impending closure of the tram has led to considerable speculation
among passholders over what on-mountain changes will take place in two
winters when the lift is decommissioned. Olson said the resort hasn't
resolved any operational issues for the 2006-07 winter. It has yet to
determine how avalanche control will be conducted or how the resort's
lucrative guide service will be affected.
"We don't have an official operating plan for 2006-07 yet, and we'll
share the plan as soon as things come together," she said. "There's
been no discussion of selective use of the tram at this point."
According to Hall, any new lift construction or changes in access to
the upper mountain might require an adjustment to the resort's Forest
Service permit or mountain master plan.
"It's hard to speculate and would depend on what they propose," Hall
said. "There will be many aspects we have to look at through their
permitted process to see if we'd have to do a permit modification."
Olson also said it's too soon to determine what effect the closure of the tram would have on lift ticket and season pass prices.
"Our business is seasonal and we probably won't address that until the end of this winter," she said.
Filmmaker Darrell Miller, 29, a Jackson native who has spent more than
two decades waiting in tram lines, summed up the feelings of many in
the valley's ski and snowboard community.
"I think it's the end of a beautiful era in Jackson Hole," he said.
"There's a lot of people who've depended on the tram for happiness and
sanity over the decades, and it's sad to see it go."
Jackson Hole News and Guide
By Michael Pearlman
(Saturday June 25, Jackson Hole News and Guide) - The Jackson Hole
Mountain Resort aerial tram will carry its last passengers at the end
of the 2006 summer season, resort officials announced on Friday.
The resort's board of directors decided Wednesday to retire the ski
area's signature icon after initial estimates concluded that it would
cost $20 million to replace the 40-year old lift.
"This decision has been extremely difficult and quite honestly a very
sad one," Jay Kemmerer, owner of JHMR, said in a statement. "However
our family is committed to a zero-risk approach, so we think this
proactive stance is the best. We know this may impact our business,
business to Jackson Hole and the state, but we are committed to the
best long-term solution for all our constituencies. We must move on."
Though a team of experts who inspected the tram earlier this year
concluded that it could be safely operated for several more years,
resort president Jerry Blann said he and the board opted to
decommission the lift before any safety concerns arise.
"No one component was the issue, it was more a question of it reaching
the end of its useful life," he said. "It's like a 40 year old
automobile. It's not one component, it's a combination of everything."
The future of lift service for Rendezvous Bowl and Corbets Couloir -
the resort's most famous run - is murky. Blann said the resort is
considering multiple possibilities for accessing the top of the
mountain, but said given the timeline required for construction, it
will "undoubtedly be a year or two without lift service up there at
The Kemmerer family has invested $55 million in facility upgrades since
purchasing the Mountain Resort in 1992. This summer, capital projects
include construction of a new triple chairlift, the remodeling of the
Bridger Center and the first stages of construction of a full-service
restaurant at the top of the Bridger Gondola.
"The $20 million cost to replace [the tram] cannot be justified from a
business perspective," Blann said. "Tram costs have to compete with
other upgrade priorities. We always have more needs than cash is
available to provide."
The resort hasn't yet examined the fiscal impact of the tram's removal,
however Blann speculated that the announcement might attract more
visitors to the mountain next winter. He said that he hopes that the
public, local, state and federal officials will join in a strategic
tourism plan that includes ways to enable a replacement for the tram.
"Being the icon that it is and given its relation to tourism throughout
the state, we think there's opportunities to tap some resources at the
state level," Blann said.
If funding to replace the tram does not materialize, a range of
alternatives is being considered, including the return of the surface
lift, which serviced Rendezvous Bowl until it was removed in 1991.
Though rumors of major tram upgrades have been circulating around the
valley for months, the announcement that the resort's marketing
centerpiece would be retired was met with surprised and confusion from
local skiers. Photographer Wade McKoy, a passholder since 1974, pointed
out that the aerial tram has always been inextricably linked to the
"Without the tram, it's not Jackson Hole. It's not 'The Big One', he
said. "One of the things that makes the resort special is the 4,139
feet of non-stop vertical. That's what the people that I ski with want
to do-laps on the tram."
Six-year passholder Geoff Sharp speculated that the absence of the tram
would increase crowding at the base on powder days. "The only reason
the gondola line stays bearable on a big day is because of the tram,"
he said. "The congestion at the bottom is going to be a problem."
Photographer Greg Von Doersten said the loss of the lift could have a
significant effect on the resort's reputation among expert destination
skiers. "I think not having it would greatly affect the resort's
reputation and the backcountry terrain which Jackson has established
its reputation on," he said. "It's certainly not going to be the
Jackson Hole it was once known as if they can't come up with a way to
fund a replacement. I'm sure they'll find a way to fund a new solution
in the future."
Until a final decision on the future of the tram is reached, the
building housing the tram dock, Teton Village clock tower and Nick
Wilsons restaurant will remain in place, Blann said. Construction of
the aerial tram took two years and the lift opened on July 31, 1966.
The tram's cabins were replaced in 1989.