BURGESS JUNCTION – At the base of the abandoned ski resort, Mark Weitz looked up at the chairlifts and powder-covered runs.

“For those of us who have been up here, it’s hard not to hear the laughter of the kids,” he said. “It’s like a ghost town.”

Weitz leads of a group of residents from the communities around the northern Big Horns — places such as Sheridan, Basin and Greybull – who are trying to reopen Antelope Butte Ski Area, which closed after the 2003 ski season.

Weitz and other members of the Antelope Butte Foundation estimate they need about $3 million – half to repair the ski lodge, which has water and mold damage, and the other half for equipment such as Sno-Cats to groom the 23 trails.

They’ve raised almost $170,000 thus far, Weitz said.

If all the money is raised and the U.S. Forest Service permits operations, the ski area will be open year-around. Ideas for summer activities include concerts, mountain biking and hiking and restaurant and bar visits.

School children in the communities miss learning to ski at Antelope Butte, said Roberta Young, owner of three lodges in the area — Bear Lodge Resort, Elk View Inn and Arrowhead Lodge.

“People use to stop here for breakfast on their way to ski or for dinner or lunch on the way back,” she said. “They were always enthusiastic, looking forward to skiing or talking about the day they had. We do miss them.”

Fun Valley

A Wyoming corporation called Fun Valley Inc. operated the ski resort from 1960 until it closed in 2003. Technically, the U.S. Forest Service leased the land and owned the property, including the ski lodge and garages, Weitz said

Emerson Scott, a partner in Fun Valley, said the resort closed after a few years of not having enough snow.

It took a while for the Forest Service to list the property and when it did – in 2008 – few investors stepped forward. The country was in recession. Banks had tightened lending, Weitz said.

A man from Powell made an offer but retracted it in 2011, Weitz said. That’s when locals decided to form the non-profit foundation to guarantee profits will be reinvested in the resort.

“Nobody will get a dividend,” Weitz said.

Nonprofit model

The Antelope Butte Foundation has studied potential profits and estimates about half will come from concessions — especially beer — and the other half will come from lift tickets.

About 60 percent of the expenses would be wages. Utilities, fuel, advertising, equipment and insurance are other expenses, Weitz said.

Weitz likes to describe Antelope Butte as a mom-and-pop ski resort. It’s certainly not a Vail Ski Resort in Colorado or a Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah – with upscale condos and town squares.

Michael Berry, president of National Ski Areas Association in Lakewood, Colo., calls them “community-based hills.”

Cody has Sleeping Giant Ski Area. Casper has Hogadon Ski Area. Towns throughout the United States are dotted with small ski resorts.

“People don’t want these wonderful assets to sit idle,” Berry said.

Competition

Wayne Jones, who purchased and reopened Meadowlark Ski Lodge in the southern Big Horns, is not thrilled he may soon have competition.

“We don’t have enough population in this area,” he said. “I’m not even convinced we have enough to support one ski lodge.”

Jones explained the economics of his business: An average lift ticket costs $30. If he can get 7,000 skier visits, he’d get $210,000 gross income, out of which he pays 15 salaries and buys diesel, electricity, propane and insurance.

“In my opinion, the people who are pushing for everything to be nonprofit, they’re socialist and there’s a fine line between socialism and communism,” he said. “If the government is no longer going to support anything, it is no longer the US of A.”

Berry, of the National Ski Areas Association, said ski resorts do better when they’re clustered near each other. People learn to ski at one resort and then try another.

According to Forest Service data provided by Weitz, there were 15,237 skier visits at both resorts in 2003. In 2002, there were 18,195.

“The ski industry is growing,” he said. “Wyoming’s population is growing.”

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

(5) comments

Sassy
Sassy

Wayne Jones is an idiot- always has been always will be......

Sassy
Sassy

Roberta Young- You miss the money..........

yup

+1 on Wayne Jones being an idiot.

Radio

I'm curious though. We in central Wyoming are constantly bombarded with stories about how deeply in debt Hogadon is each season. Many hundreds of thousands lost.

Wasn't it also Sleeping Giant that went through some massive financial problems and has changed hands over the past few years?

It seems to me that investing in these small community ski hills is a complete money loser and destined to failure. And judging by the small amount of money raised in comparison to the amount needed, it would appear that investors are also weary of any cash outlay.

I wish them luck, but I see the writing on the wall.

supercalifragilistic

Radio, if I may?
Had Casper realized half the wind Casper normally sees? Casper's Hogadon would have appeal as a destination area for skiers that shop. As Casper's night life is not too welcoming to skiers and overnight (outdoor winter) visitors.
Antelope Butte and Meadowlark ski areas have/had the same issues as White Pine Resort (just outside of Pinedale, Wy) for skiers, too high in altitude. Meaning, when the sun is out - its great skiing and nice - but, when the sun is obscured to a cloudy day? The temperature swings are enormous and many skiers somewhat shy from drastic temperature swings.

The best place to open and develop a ski resort would be the Wind River (east slopes) somewhere near Lander. The mountain is positioned for perfect up slope heavy snow. The angle of the Mountain (along the continental divide) would keep snow longer and the season would be competitive with Jackson Hole.
A population base of 41,000+ and growing (in the area) would be a perfect place for someone to invest successfully. Their winds days are no different than Jackson Hole winds. I don't want to come across as negative towards other areas but, this is an untapped mountain with outstanding potential.

If the area saw 1,000 skiers a day - which could easily see that, at $30. per ticket average? Then throw in concessions, breakfast, lunch and even dinner, you raking in $35,000.00 per ski day before expenses.
I say this cause we usually travel through Riverton on our way to Jackson Hole and we know of many other that do the very same thing. Then on the return trip, spend the night, wine and dine then, to the Casino in Riverton. We would welcome a Fremont County Ski area.

I agree, I wish those success this time if they choose Antelope Butte?

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