Efforts to open ski area ongoing

SHERIDAN — Start stretching, Sheridan.

Seeing how low you can go in the limbo competition at the upcoming “Butte-ify the Big Horns” event will kick fundraising efforts into high gear for the Antelope Butte Foundation, a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to re-opening the Antelope Butte Ski and Recreation Area located 60 miles west of Sheridan in the Bighorn Mountains.

For two years, the foundation has been laying the groundwork in its efforts to revitalize the community ski area that closed in 2003. Now, 50 years after the original group of volunteers banded together to open the ski area, the foundation is ready to round up community support and get skiers in surrounding counties back on the hill.

“We aren’t trying to create an idea from scratch. We are trying to bring back what we used to have,” board President Mark Weitz said. “Fifty years ago, the community got behind it. We are looking for the same support today.”

Butte-ify the Big Horns will be from 6-9 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Edward A. Whitney Academic Center atrium at Sheridan College. The event will feature a cocktail hour from 6-7:30 p.m., hors d’oeuvres from Sheridan College, beer from Black Tooth Brewing Company, a limbo competition, a photo booth, games, prizes and more.

Tickets are $50 for adults and $20 for students. They are available at the door or by calling Tony Tarver at 752-4059 or Weitz at 751-9151. Table sponsorships are available for $500 and $750.

Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey will give a welcome address and Jamie Schectman, co-founder of the Mountain Riders Alliance, will give a keynote address. Mountain Riders Alliance is an organization dedicated to revitalizing community ski areas to improve community health.

“This is our re-introduction to the community for our fundraising effort,” ABF Board Member Carrie Sisson said. “And we really do believe that Antelope Butte beautifies the Bighorns.”

The foundation worked with the Wyoming Business Council to complete a business plan, which was also analyzed by ERG of Missoula, Mont.

“Basically, they came up with the same thing we did: how many skiers it was going to take and what we’d have to charge for a lift ticket. If they’d have come up with three times the skiers and three times as much, we would have been like, ‘We’re way off … this is a dream.’ But when they came back with the same thing we did, that gave us the confidence that this is a solid, viable business plan,” Weitz said.

Members of the Antelope Butte Foundation have determined the ski area will need 9,500 skier days and a lift ticket price of $38-40 to sustain itself. That is what the ski area averaged in the ‘90s, so it seems possible, especially since populations in surrounding counties have grown and ABF plans to use the ski area for summer activities, too, Weitz said.

But first, the fundraising.

ABF estimates it needs to raise $3.1 million to get the ski area off the ground. This includes approximately $1.6 million to refurbish the lodge; $400,500 for a new “magic carpet” lift on the beginner’s hill and upgrades to existing lifts; $650,000 to purchase new groomers and plows; and $500,000 for trucks, rental equipment, kitchen gear and operational capital.

The numbers are conservative estimates and do not include promises of volunteer labor that could lessen the amount needed, Weitz said.

Once the ski area is open, it will be a self-sustaining project, Weitz said. No further fundraising should be needed to maintain operations.

Phase three, which will begin as soon as funds are raised, is construction and refurbishment on the hill.

“It’s time to fix up the fixer upper,” Weitz said.

The Antelope Butte Foundation hopes to have $3.1 million raised by March to take advantage of next summer’s construction season and be open by winter 2014-2015. However, that is an ambitious goal, and the foundation will not begin work under-capitalized, Weitz said.

The ultimate goal of ABF is to get families — and especially young children — skiing again. The ski area will offer a “Five for Life” ski package that will offer lift tickets, lessons and rental equipment to youth. Graduates will receive a season pass for the rest of the season.

“We want to make an easy on-ramp into the sport,” Weitz said. “It’s a family sport. It’s multi-generational. And it’s uniquely Rocky Mountain.”

Weitz said the foundation hopes to make Sheridan competitive with other Western ski towns like Bozeman and Whitefish, Mont. ABF has teamed up with Sheridan College’s Learn Outdoors program for the Butte-ify the Big Horns event.

 

• For more information on Antelope Butte Ski and Recreation Area visit www.antelopebuttefoundation.org or find ABF on Facebook.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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