Rodeo is Wyoming's official state sport, and this ain't Antelope Butte's first. The small resort in the Bighorn Mountains, 59 miles west of Sheridan, Wyoming, closed in 2004 after a successful four-decade run as a mom-and-pop ski hill. And with the help of the Antelope Butte Foundation, a grassroots nonprofit, it is officially scheduled to rise from the dead in December 2017.
The foundation announced Monday that it has acquired all the funds needed to purchase the assets of Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area, which sits on federal land, from the U.S. Forest Service. After signing a contract last July committing to complete the $220,000 purchase by November 2016, the nonprofit will make its final payment to the government this week, months ahead of schedule.
The 250-acre mountain with 1,000 vertical feet has long served as a bastion of good old-fashioned Wyoming skiing. "In a simpler era, before the advent of big corporate ski areas driven by real estate condo deals, Antelope Butte was a breath of fresh, mountain winter air,” Senator Dave Kinskey wrote in a 2011 letter to the Forest Service. “Antelope Butte may yet provide sport, entertainment, and great outdoor experiences for a younger generation."
"This is our greatest achievement yet in our efforts to open the Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area," Executive Director and “Ski-EO” Andrew Gast told the Big Horn Radio Network. "We can now mobilize our volunteers and utilize our in-kind pledges to begin restoration and move ahead on permitting the winter and summer operations with the US Forest Service."
Though the Forest Service will retain ownership of the land, the deed will give the foundation proprietary rights to the two chairlifts and main lodge, as well as the other buildings on site. As soon as the snow melts, volunteers plan to start refurbishing the facilities, which need a little love after sitting abandoned for more than a decade. It'll be the most tangible evidence of progress since the nonprofit was founded in 2011 with a $4 million revitalization plan called "Open Antelope Butte."
Bill Jensen, an industry expert who has worked with Vail Resorts and Intrawest, predicted in January 2015 that at least 32 percent of the 470 ski resorts in the United States would be forced to shut down in the coming years. There are already over 900 lost ski areas across the United States, but with the Antelope Butte Foundation’s acquisition, it's almost certain that this community hill will no longer be counted among them by next season.
"Actually owning the facility means it's going to happen," Gast told the Casper Star Tribune.
Nonprofit organizers have additional funds to raise for building restoration and new equipment. To meet fundraising goals, they’re rolling out a legacy sponsorship program inviting donors to name chairs, their favorite trails, and even the main lodge. If the campaign is successful, the mountain could open this upcoming summer for bikers and hikers, for the first time in its history. An inaugural event called Ullr Ball will kick off this next stage of fundraising efforts on Thursday.