Volunteers move forward in plans to reopen ski areaby Kelsey Dayton
— March 25, 2014
The lifts hang laden with snow, unmoving other than occasionally swaying in the wind. The buildings are deserted and locked, unavailable to comfort a cold or hungry skier. The runs are still defined, trees lining the wide swathes of pristine white, much of it touched only by snaking lines of tracks left by the handful of people who still visit what was once Antelope Butte ski area.
Since it first opened in the 1960s, Antelope Butte was a place local kids learned to ski. Located about 60 miles from Sheridan, with a summit at 9,400-feet, it has long been said to get the best snow in the Big Horn Mountains, this year likely more than 300 inches, said Mark Weitz, president of the Antelope Butte Foundation Board.
“It’s still gorgeous,” said Weitz, a Sheridan resident. “It’s beautiful. The snow’s good. But the thing I miss most is the laughter.”
Even as skiers like Weitz earned their turns this winter, hiking and skinning up the mountain to ski down, their minds have been on reopening the area, which closed in 2004. It is expected to cost about $3 million to make it operational again.
The federal government owns the buildings, including a lodge, lift house, sheds and two ski lifts, left over from when the previous owners closed in 2004, said Gayle Laurent, special uses and lands program manager for the Big Horn National Forest. The foundation says it will buy the infrastructure and then apply for a permit to use the land.
An expired 2007 appraisal valued the improvements with a permit at $225,000, Laurent said. The salvage value of the property was $50,000. It cost $17,000 to perform the appraisal. The foundation will pay for a new appraisal. Because the property has continued to deteriorate, Laurent expects the value to be lower.
The foundation’s goal is to finish the appraisal and enter into an agreement with the Forest Service by this summer so volunteers can begin improvements and the area can open in winter 2015-2016, Weitz said.
The foundation is planning fundraising events this summer, including a series of mountain bike races. Details on the races, and also efforts on the ski area, will be posted on the Antelope Butte Foundation’s Facebook page later this spring.
Antelope Butte operated fairly consistently — depending on snow conditions — for four decades before closing in 2004, Laurent said. The foundation started talking to the Forest Service in 2011 about reopening it.
Weitz said he understands why the previous owners closed the area. Operating a small ski area is expensive. That’s why the foundation formed to run it as a nonprofit. It’s also partnering with Mountain Riders Alliance, which created a consortium of small ski areas so local hills can get the same rates as resorts that buy equipment in bulk.
The goal is not to compete with any existing ski areas, or draw in tourists, Weitz said. Antelope Butte is about serving the locals, so future generations can learn to ski on the same mountain where parents and grandparents carved their first turns.
Despite its small size, the ski area boasts an amazing variety of terrain in its 23 trails, Weitz said. Weitz chose Sheridan as a place to live in 1991 in part due to the ski area. It’s where Weitz’ kids, then 2- and 3 years old, first learned to ski. Yet he always found terrain challenging enough to hold his interest as well.
In 1999 there was a plan to expand the area, including adding two new chair lifts. The foundation still has those plans. Weitz could see an expansion in the future. He and other supporters of the ski area sometimes talk wistfully about all the possibilities.
“But first,” he said, “the plan is to just get it up and running.”
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton
If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.