ANTELOPE BUTTE, Wyo.- It has been a long journey for the Antelope Butte ski area in Wyoming, which closed in 2004 but is open again this season.
As one skier said recently, the ski runs with her daughter are “heart-exploding magical,” and Antelope Butte’s operators are hoping to inspire those feelings again.
When the area the closed, it defaulted to the U.S. Forest Service, which aimed to sell or demolish it. After the land sat dormant for years, the Antelope Butte Foundation was formed in 2011 with the goal of reopening the facility.
The foundation purchased the area in 2016 and now, three years later, they are finally able to reopen the mountain.
According to Executive Director John Kirlin, families who used to ski there are exactly who they are hoping to attract as they begin to re-establish themselves as a winter destination.
“We are seeing a lot of families and beginners, which is what we are here to serve. Our mission for the foundation is to provide affordable and accessible, year-round mountain training and education with a focus on youth and beginners,” said Kirlin.
With kids and beginners in mind, Antelope Butte worked to make sure their magic carpet and beginner lift were open to accommodate that audience.
The magic carpet services an almost flat learning area where absolute beginners can get their feet under them.
The lower lift provides access to three easy slopes and a small terrain park.
The next step is opening the main lift, which still needs new parts and a final inspection. Kirlin told us that after 15 years of dormancy, the machinery was in remarkably good condition, but they noticed a slight grinding in the initial testing of the main lift and elected to purchase a new gearbox.
“The one caveat that we have is we are on National Forest land and currently the forest is shut down. So we can’t schedule our load test until the government is back up and running,” said Kirlin.
They hope to have the lift running before the end of this season.
The lodge is also a work in progress, a project the foundation hopes to complete by fall 2019.
Once the lodge is complete, the foundation can start working on long-term goals, which center on expanding year-round recreation experiences.
They aim to offer hiking and biking trails as well as camping opportunities to try and capitalize on the 330,000 people that drive every summer through the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, which connects to Highway 14 running to Antelope Butte.
The ski area will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the remainder of the season.
The Antelope Butte Foundation is still fundraising and is offering creative opportunities like permanently naming run or a lift chair. Anyone interested can head to antelopebuttefoundation.org.
Reporting by Connor Pregizer for MTN News