SHERIDAN — The Antelope Butte Foundation wants to offer affordable skiing in the Bighorns by December 2016 and continues to make strides toward that dream.
ABF Executive Director and CEO Andrew Gast told the Sheridan City Council Monday night the nonprofit has raised $335,000 as part of continuing fundraising efforts and recently began minor maintenance work.
“We actually did that this past weekend to seal the leaks, stop the moisture from getting in there and make sure there’s no more snowmelt in that building,” he explained.
ABF has a tall task ahead of it, lodge and otherwise. The foundation agreed this summer to purchase the defunct ski area for $275,000 and made a down payment of $55,000 in September.
That first quarter-million dollars is just the beginning. Gast said the total project cost is projected at just over $4 million. That breaks down to $290,000 for purchase of the asset, including maintenance buildings, lifts and the lodge; $3.4 million for purchase of equipment, renovation of the lodge and rehabilitation of lifts; and $340,000 to go into an endowment fund.
After purchase of the ski area, the lodge will take up the largest chunk of cash at a projected $2 million that includes a restaurant, bar, rentals, retail shops and offices.
“Our plan is to completely remodel the lodge — that’s a to-the-studs remodel,” Gast said. “So we’re going to tear it down to the studs to recreate the flow a little bit and also expand it.”
ABF plans to get rid of the solarium, which is one of the sources of moisture. Plans include more second- and third-floor seating with large windows facing the slopes.
Antelope Butte is far from a distant memory for many Sheridan residents. The resort was open most seasons from 1960 to 2004.
“The site that it’s at now was chosen in the late 1950s for three reasons,” Gast said. “One, they wanted good road access. Two, they wanted good, skiable terrain. And three, they wanted good snow. It’s a north-facing mountain, and the base is 8,400 feet. So, there are few places in the northern Rockies that have as good of snow as Antelope Butte does.”
ABF won’t let tradition get in the way of progress, though. While the skiable terrain will look the same as 2003, representatives hope a few major changes will help the ski area withstand the test of time.
“One of the marked differences you’ll see in this operation compared the past is the ability to do summer operations,” Gast said. “So we still anticipate about 10,000 visitors in the winter during a 12- to 16-week season pretty much going from the Christmas holidays to early or mid-April.”
Then, beginning in summer 2017, summer activities will help buoy Antelope Butte’s finances. At first, warm-weather opportunities will include scenic chair lift rides. Over the years, ABF hopes to phase in mountain biking, hiking, weddings and, of course, the annual festival.
One of the main challenges to Antelope Butte’s success in the past involved finding good, seasonal employees. ABF has an idea to solve this issue.
“We plan to have eight to 10 permanent, year-round positions and an additional 18 seasonal positions both in the winter and the summertime,” Gast said.
ABF’s plan may seem ambitious to some, but a third-party feasibility study showed the ski area could be sustainable on winter activities alone. Gast said the foundation looked forward to working with the Sheridan City Council moving forward, and councilors expressed appreciation for the nonprofit’s hard work.