In corporate America, it's all about big business and big money and the ski industry is no exception. But earlier this week grassroots efforts in Wyoming led a nonprofit to purchase an abandoned ma-and-pa ski hill in the Bighorn Mountains with plans to reopen by December 2016.
The Antelope Butte Foundation, a group formed specifically for this project in 2010, bought Antelope Butte Ski and Recreation Area for $275,000. Located 59 miles away from Sheridan, Wyoming, the ski area boasts 250 acres of skiable terrain and 1,000 vertical feet.
"What this really signifies is the beginning of the clock ticking," says Jamie Schectman, executive director of the Antelope Butte Foundation, adding, "It's not if, it's when. There's really no turning back at this point."
While the sale marks a huge milestone for the organization, there is still a ways to go before the local hill is restored to its former glory. ABF has until the end of a 45-day inspection period to pay $55,000, the first of three installments, to the Forest Service. During this time the group will also assess the lodge to determine if it can be remodeled or if it will need to be rebuilt from scratch.
"We'll do more in the next six to 12 months than we've done in the last four years," Schectman says.
A project like this is a lot to take on, Schectman said, adding that there are only 22 ski areas owned by non-profits out of 470 current ski areas in the United States. In order to make this sustainable, the organization plans on investing in summer recreation along with rehabilitating the lodge and two chairlifts. For the kids, they also plan on bringing in a Magic Carpet. Renovations like these have the potential to cost around $4.3 million. As of now, the foundation has raised $300,000.
While nonprofit ownership may be the minority in the ski industry, it does come with perks, including the option to raise funds from the community, accept donations and partnerships from philanthropic corporations, and apply for grant money. Plus, all profits are tax exempt.
A nonprofit has successfully run Bridger Bowl ski area, located outside Bozeman, Montana, for years, giving the Wyoming foundation a model for success.
The Antelope Butte Ski and Recreation Area opened in the mid ’60s as a family owned and operated business. The ski area's closing in 2004 was a huge blow to the community. Local Wyomingites have fond memories skiing at the local spot with their families on the weekends and want to see it reopen for their kids and grandkids, said Schectman. Meadowlark Ski Lodge is now the closest slope for the 40,000 people in this area of Wyoming, and it’s about an hour and a half away.
Next weekend, the foundation will host the 2nd Annual Summer Festival at the base of the mountain to raise money for the project. Local members of the Crow Tribe will perform a ceremony to bless the mountain.
In the end, reopening the ski hill comes down to the grit of the community, Schectman said.
"They're used to rolling up their sleeves and putting their money where they want," he said. "And bringing skiing back to this part of Wyoming is something that a lot of people want."