Jackson's Town Square is in the heart of one Wyoming's best-known towns. A 12-mile drive or bus ride away is the Jackson Hole ski area, an iconic ski mountain that rises 4,139 vertical feet above the Snake River Valley. Snow King, with a considerably more modest 1,571-foot vertical, is just a few blocks from the center of town. When I ski at Jackson Hole, I am one of the thousands of visitors who come from far away to ski and snowboard there. When I ski at Snow King, I am sharing trails with locals. Little wonder. Instead of hanging out at a non-existent mall, kids grow up skiing there after school. Supporting "the King" doesn't cost much.
Snow King's layout is straightforward, with two conventional-speed double chairlifts and one triple, plus a gentle rope tow for beginners. The Rafferty double accessing novice runs and the rope tow are on one side of the area, and the Cougar triple and Summit double are on the other. Both start close to the multi-use Snow King Center that serves as a traditional ski area day lodge and also features a fine indoor skating rink and arena.
I've made numerous pilgrimages to Jackson and its fabled mega-mountain, but only last year did I finally set skis on snow at the smaller one. On a weekday, with school in session, my friends and I had Snow King almost to ourselves. In the afternoon, youngsters in their hotshot Lycra racing suits began showing up to train, and on the gentle tow-served slope at the base, the smallest tots and most tentative beginners made their first turns.
Much of the terrain accessed by the Cougar lift, and all of it off the parallel Summit Chair, is marked with single and double black diamonds, meaning that it is all relentlessly steep and suited to expert skiers. We first rode the triple two-thirds of the way up the mountain and traversed a short distance on the appropriately named Slow Trail, the sole route from mid-mountain marked with a green circle for "easiest." We warmed up on one of the trio of blue-square (for "more difficult") slopes. Their width and steady pitch are beguiling for most recreational skiers who happily blast down these mogul-free cruisers.