Mark Weitz is facing an uphill battle to revitalize a shuttered downhill ski resort in Wyoming.
Weitz, a Sheridan engineer, is chairman of the Antelope Butte Foundation, a newly organized nonprofit group hoping to raise enough money to resurrect the ski area by the same name.
“We just feel like skiing is a lifetime activity that brings friends and family together and we don’t want to lose it,” Weitz said.
The group will hold an informational meeting on Wednesday at the Black Tooth Brewery at 7 p.m. to inform the public about what they’ve been up to, answer any questions and try to rally support. The meeting will be in a back room, away from the brewery, so families are welcome.
“America was started in a tavern house, so we’re following a good model there,” Weitz joked.
Antelope Butte Ski Area is located on roughly 500 acres about an hour southwest of Sheridan in the Bighorn Mountains, just off Highway 14.
The name comes from a nearby landmark.
The mountain’s two chairlifts, tow rope, lodge, maintenance building and garage have been unused since the ski area’s permit was terminated in 2005. The mountain gave skiers and snowboarders access to 1,000 feet of vertical drop and 19 runs.
Dayton resident Emerson Scott operated the ski area from 1986 until 2004. He closed it after several years of poor snowfall.
The Forest Service, which authorizes and oversees the permit for the ski hill, had two groups consider revitalizing the mountain in 2008 and 2009, but nothing happened, said Gayle Laurent, lands and special-uses program manager for the Bighorn National Forest.
“So right now, we are looking at eliminating the facility,” she said.
Weitz and his fellow skiers were spurred on by the possibility that the ski equipment would be sold for salvage. They talked the Forest Service into delaying release of the salvage proposal for bid while the nonprofit tries to craft a business plan and raise money.
They have until mid-January to submit an application showing they are technically and financially capable of operating and maintaining the facility, Laurent said.
Members of the nonprofit group have examined the facilities and Weitz said it will cost $1 million or more to get everything up and running. He said that once people get fired up about the idea, raising that much money won’t be so difficult.
Weitz said that before forming the nonprofit group, he gauged interest in reopening the ski area on both sides of the Bighorn Mountains.
“We found nothing but enthusiasm,” he said. “Folks are definitely rising to the occasion.”
He also believes that keeping the business a nonprofit, encouraging youngsters to take part through school and community programs and possibly opening up the mountain to summer activities could help the group make ends meet.
If all goes well, Weitz said, the nonprofit could begin working to upgrade the ski area next spring. Before that happens, though, the group has a lot of work to do.
“I won’t lie to you, it’s an uphill battle,” Weitz said.