Rumors of a new resort rivaling Jackson Hole have circulated Alpine, Wyoming for decades. Lifelong locals say Vail Resorts sits on a sealed deal with the Forest Service to build a world class ski destination on the majestic mountain towering over this tiny town.
A team of investigative reporters for The Sheepeater recently found out when the resort will be completed and what it will look like.
Located about an hour from both Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee, Ferry Peak looks like a skier’s creamiest dream. It is most famous for its spiny East face reminiscent of Alaska.
From the floor of Star Valley the West side of Ferry looks a lot like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Annual snowfall near the summit of Ferry Peak rivals — or exceeds — that recorded at the same elevation on Grand Targhee.
Could a ski area on Ferry Peak combine the best of both existing Wydaho ski resorts? That, my friends, is a billion dollar question.
Local developers and realtors dream by night and scheme by day, searching for ways to make money if the much anticipated ship named “Vail” ever comes sailing up the Snake and anchors out in the Palisades Reservoir.
Some of the folks here in Alpine think a ski resort would benefit our community. Most think it is a horrible idea.
Surprisingly, many of the people passionately in favor of or opposed to a resort on Ferry have never actually skied Ferry. Ultimately, the mountain itself has the last say. Are you willing to listen?
A few days ago I skied Ferry Peak with a JH-based Developer, a Certified Public Accountant, and several Avalanche Experts with a combined backcountry skiing experience of 40+ years. We discovered the answer to the biggest question in Alpine, Wyoming:
“When will Vail build a resort on Ferry Peak?”
There will never ever be a ski resort on Ferry Peak. Here’s why:
1. Steep Starting Zones and Terrain Traps: The summit ridge of Ferry Peak is a heavily-corniced knife edge. It tops out ~1000′ below treeline, but few trees live up there because avalanches frequently sweep its slopes. Almost every obvious slide path on the mountain ends in a deep and dangerous terrain trap.
The entire East aspect of the Ferry Massif averages between 35 and 45 degrees, making it prime avalanche terrain. Only a handful of trees reside on a few intermittent ridges: the rest of the face is an avalanche path. All of the slide paths end abruptly in a textbook terrain trap called Sheep Gulch.
Anyone who thinks there will ever be open gates offering lift serviced skiing on the sexy spines of Ferry East is delusional.
The South side of Ferry Massif is gnarlier and more unpredictable than the East and the North side is even gnarlier than that. Avalanches starting on the South side would frequently take out Highway 26: open gate access to that aspect is highly unlikely.
Avalanches on the North aspect wash over two cliffbands which stretch across the entire face. Northbound avalanches stop in terrain traps way up the South Fork of Indian Creek. Indian Creek is kinda like JHMR’s Granite Canyon except the traverse back to the proposed resort base area on Ferry West is mostly flat or uphill… and 12 miles long.
The West side of Ferry Peak offers a few safe skiing options at lower elevations, but all the terrain on the upper mountain funnels into five steep gullies. Sadly, all of those beautiful steep faces and treed slopes visible from the highway end in deep terrain traps like this one:
Unless heavy machinery and explosives were used to completely restructure the mountain by filling in five enormous gullies, there’s no way a ski resort could safely operate on ~90% of Ferry West. The other three aspects of the mountain are totally out of the question.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what Google Earth has to say. Notice how different Ferry West is when compared to both JHMR and Grand Targhee.
2. Lower base elevation = unpredictable and inadequate snowpack. The base of Ferry Peak West is at 5700′. This elevation is ~2200′ below the base of Grand Targhee and ~600′ below the base of JHMR.
Almost every winter JHMR spends a pile of money pumping obscene amounts of water to fill in its lower flanks.
A resort on Ferry Peak would have to be equipped to cover at least an additional 600 vertical feet with man-made snow in order to reliably operate from top to bottom.
Generally, winter temps are warmer in Star Valley than Jackson Hole, which would hinder snowmaking operations here.
Ferry West faces West just like Grand Targhee does. The base of Ferry West is 750′ below the elevation of Alta, Wyoming on the road up to Grand Targhee. We all know how rocky and barren the road up to Grand Targhee can be while bottomless powder awaits at higher elevations. Ferry West is the same way.
Unless advanced geoengineering technologies were used to guarantee cold temps and ample snow on Ferry Peak, odds are the cost of conventional snowmaking would be too much to bear.
3. Ski resorts are dying all over North America. No one is going to build a new ski resort while the business model is failing from coast to coast.
In recent years, backcountry skiing has rapidly grown while skier visits to resorts have dropped dramatically. The mainstream press blames “climate change” for this phenomenon, but in reality people just don’t like hanging out at overpriced, overcrowded mountains that are all tracked up. People want to ski untouched powder, not “packed powder” and certainly not man-made “snow”.
Most Americans can’t afford to patronize ski resorts, and the fortunate few who can are increasingly heading off into the backcountry on foot, in helicopters, or atop snowmobiles. This trend is not going to reverse itself anytime soon.
4. Snake River Canyon is protected from development by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Ferry Peak is the North Wall of the Grand Canyon of the Snake prior to where the river stagnates into the Palisades Reservoir. The river upstream of Palisades Reservoir is protected by the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 which reads:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)
Since Ferry Peak is the “immediate environment” of a protected section of the Snake River, any development there would have to get federal approval on many levels. Can you say “bureaucratic fustercluck”?!?
5. Local wildlife wouldn’t like it. Local hunters, environmentalists, and backcountry skiers wouldn’t either.
A healthy community of mountain goats call Ferry Peak home. That’s pretty special if you ask me. Elk, deer, moose, coyote, wolf, mountain lions, and countless smaller species do too. Building a ski resort on Ferry Peak would severely disturb their habitat.
Assuming that idiotic developers overlooked or surmounted all the other obstacles in their way, local backlash originating from various groups in Jackson Hole and Star Valley would grind their operations to a halt.
Most residents of Star Valley don’t ski. They may ride horses. They may ride dirtbikes. They may ride snowmachines. They definitely drive trucks. They probably don’t ski. They don’t want or need a ski resort.
Generally, ski resorts bring in a bunch of snobs that drive longtime locals from their homes and drastically change the character of the community. Nearby Jackson Hole provides an excellent example of this tragicomic phenomenon. We already have two ski resorts in close proximity to Alpine, Wyoming and really don’t need a third.
The small community of skiers in Alpine mostly moved here from Jackson to get away from the crowds and costs of a resort community. Ironically, local skiers themselves would offer the fiercest opposition to a new local ski resort.
If a few greedy goons think their outdated development scheme will work here they’ve got another thing coming.
If you want to ski Ferry Peak consider using your own two feet to climb the fucker. Take Care. One Love. Peace.