On an unusually warm Saturday at the Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area, I'm on top of the ski hill located in the middle of the Bighorn Mountain Range between Greybull and Sheridan, where the elevation is 9,400 feet. An avid skier, I start down a powdery run with evergreens and big boulders surrounding me.
At the bottom, I meet Lynette Sutphin. Sutphin is here with her two young daughters.
"I skied it back in the early to late 1990s before I went to college in Montana. I learned to ski here," Sutphin told me.
She left the area for a while and then moved to Big Horn. And when she did, she learned that her old ski hill closed down due to a legal matter.
"It was just disappointing to lose places like this. I actually prefer smaller mountains. It's like a community. You come up and you see people you know every weekend and your kids always bump into your friends. And you know the runs real well," she said.
This winter season is the first time since 2004 that the Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area is fully open. Last winter, the ski hill was partially open for part of the season. The effort to reopen the ski area located in the Bighorn Mountains took two communities separated by a mountain range more than a decade.
"We saw in late 2010 an article in the Sheridan Press that said the Forest Service is considering salvage operations, which means tear this all out," said Mark Weitz, the secretary of the Antelope Butte Foundation Board. "And so a group of citizens got together and said, 'what are we going to do about this?"'
The communities of Sheridan and Greybull formed a foundation and started fundraising right away.
"Anything from t-shirt and bake sales all the way to having a large foundations and large donors help us out," Weitz said.
They were able to buy the national forest permit. But there were hiccups along the way, like making sure the old equipment like the lifts worked and were safe. Foundation Board President Jeff Grant said the foundation members were slightly surprised how nostalgic people were about the ski hill and how important it was to them to get it up and running again.
"We want to go back to being a really important asset to both sides of the mountain and build those same memories and those same connections that lead to somebody like Mark [Weitz] getting a job offer, riding a chairlift here. I mean, that kind of blows your mind to think that that's the role this place had," said Grant.
The Foundation realizes it's not easy to keep a place like Antelope Butte running. This is the first year the hill is fully operational. Another small non-profit ski hill east of Cody, Sleeping Giant, just announced this will be the last winter season. The reason is financial. But Grant said Antelope Butte lift ticket sales have been strong
"Antelope Butte used to do 11,000 [lift tickets]. Well, we expect to be back at that level and beyond because of the population growth on the Sheridan side of the mountain. So we feel like 10, 11, or 12,000 and above is where we're going to be. And that's going to prevent what happened at Sleeping Giant," he said.
Sleeping Giant officials say they only sold half that number of lift tickets. Grant said it may be because it is at the end of a dead end road in the winter. While Antelope Butte sits on the main artery between two communities. The original reason Antelope Butte closed was not financial, it was personal. In addition to winter visitors being at a higher level than the conservative estimates this season, Antelope Butte is open during the summer time as well.
"We have two events. One summer festival, [and] the last weekend of June, we have a Brewfest this will be the fourth, fifth one," said Grant. "What we do beyond that that requires bigger investments like building mountain bike trails and all that's to be determined what we do."
With sales, the winter season is going well for Antelope Butte. And for Lynette Sutphin's two girls, Lillian and Leah, it's a blast.
"It's so much fun up here, and it today was my first time on the big lift! It was so much fun," said Lillian.
This experience is exactly what Antelope Butte hopes to achieve, bringing back skiing and snowboarding to the Greybull and Sheridan communities.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at firstname.lastname@example.org.