Snow King to Open State of the Art Observatory
by Elizabeth Lopeman
The future of Snow King Mountain Resort keeps getting brighter as it reaches for the stars!
THE KING’S CROWN
On June 1, the official opening ceremony of the Snow King Observatory will feature speakers and festivities to mark the public debut of a unique facility. There will be opportunities for children and adults alike, whether seasoned astronomy buffs or curious greenhorns.
The Snow King Observatory is state of the art with a large (one meter) Plane Wave telescope that will be available for public observation via on-site staff. The telescope rests on a 20-foot concrete pier anchored in the earth and isolated from the greater structure to prevent vibrations from disrupting its position. The 4,400-square-foot observatory will feature a 35-seat planetarium space theater and a 40-seat auditorium for group presentations and learning opportunities. Adjacent to the 24-foot dome is a rooftop observation deck where portable telescopes can be set up for additional viewing during astronomical events.
Seated on the crest of the ridge atop Snow King Mountain, the observatory can be accessed by the Snow King Gondola, or if you’d prefer to hike some trails go up 1,600 feet to the summit. The naked-eye panorama from the location is phenomenal with extended views of the Teton and Wyoming ranges and partial views of the Gros Ventre range.
Whether it be according to the time of day or through the seasons, the programming at the Snow King Observatory will be constantly changing.
“In the summer, an admission ticket to the observatory will include a gondola ride up, plus a tour of the facility, including showings of previous nights’ observations to be shown on multiple large-screen TVs throughout the building,” said Snow King spokesperson, Ryan Stanley. “And a portable solar telescope can also be utilized from the observation deck.”
Nighttime activities will include a whole host of organized observation programs, many of which will feature astronomical events such as meteor showers and eclipses, weather permitting, of course. For those nights when clouds obscure the stars, the facility can utilize the theater for activities as well as numerous AV installations.
Just down the slope from the observatory is an amphitheater with newly planted grass and a newly fortified stage to facilitate the resort’s summer concert series. With a limited number of tickets, concertgoers will be able to access the observatory, and a plan is in place to present concerts in conjunction with astronomy-focused events.
The winter schedule will differ with the added advantage of a much earlier sunset, thus longer viewing opportunities. Season ski pass holders will be extended extra benefits with price reductions and regular visitors will still receive a gondola ticket with the admission ticket. This will be the only observatory atop a ski resort in North America and one of the very few worldwide open for public programming.
If you’re lucky enough, you may get to host or attend a private event at the observatory. A wedding party plotted out the first private event for the summer of 2024, and many more will surely be coming down the pike. With outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and of course, to the heavens, this is certainly a stellar venue. Community events will also get a seat at the table.
THE “CAST AND CREW”
While the real stars of the show will be, well, the stars, a cadre of individuals and entities have made the observatory possible. Originally the vision of Wyoming Stargazing astronomer Sam Singer, Jakob Galczynski, and Farmer Payne Architects partnered with Snow King to design the structure.
“The architecture team was presented with the rare opportunity to design an observation facility that could both house a telescope and accommodate a flow of visitors,” says Jamie Farmer of Farmer Payne Architects. The telescope rests on a 20 foot concrete pier anchored in the earth, and isolated from the greater structure to prevent vibrations from disrupting its position.
Astronomer Joe Zator will be the house astronomer and said he looks forward to “bringing the wonders and beauty of space to everyone in Jackson.”
“The facilities are world-class and we’re so excited to have as many people as possible take a walk through the stars and experience the cosmos.”
Zator is a Colorado University graduate from the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department, where he worked at Fiske Planetarium and the Laboratory for Atmospheric & Space Physics. He also has a Masters degree from Lehigh University.
Zator is also in charge of hiring a team to run the observatory and planetarium, which includes interns and temporary employees.
“The observatory will facilitate internships for aspiring astronomers and scientists, who in turn will host presentations to the public,” said Ryan Stanley.
The addition of the Snow King Observatory to the list of interesting and fun activities at Snow King, and throughout the Jackson community, is huge. There is no shortage of amazing sites and activities to see and engage in here, but now they will extend to the entire universe!
About the author: Elizabeth Lopeman has written about travel, art, and architecture for international publications. Her fiction has been published in book form and in literary journals and she has edited numerous books. After stints on the East Coast, West Coast, Munich and Rome, she returned to Jackson to be near her family and to schuss the magical slopes of her childhood.